Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Tuesday 28 September |
Saint of the Day: St. Wenceslaus
home iconTravel
line break icon

How a Dutch cocoa tin was inspired by a medieval altarpiece

DROSTE COFFEE MUG

Farhan Perdeana (BLEK) | CC BY 2.0

Zelda Caldwell - published on 12/13/17

The “Droste effect” features a smaller picture within a picture.

When you see a picture that contains a smaller picture of itself, which contains another smaller picture of itself, and so on and so on, you are seeing what’s known as the Droste effect.

The visual effect takes its name from the popular Dutch brand of cocoa, Droste, which features an illustration of a nurse on its cocoa tins. Designed by Jan Misset in 1904, the label on the tin shows the nurse holding a tray containing a steaming cup of cocoa and a Droste tin with her likeness on it. If only the resolution of the picture were better, you could see tinier and tinier nurses ad infinitum.

Courtesy of Droste

Droste, however, was not the first to employ what is known in the mathematical world as a recursive visual effect. The technique appeared in medieval art, including in Giotto’s Stefaneschi Triptych of 1320. The altarpiece depicts Cardinal Giacomo Gaetani Stefaneschi holding the very triptych he is depicted on as he offers it to St. Peter.

Wikipedia
Giotto's altarpiece for Old St. Peter's Basilica in Rome
Wikipedia
Detail of Giotto's altarpiece

In spite of its medieval beginnings, the Droste effect has perhaps found its natural home with digital technology, which allows for the easy reproduction of images within images. No longer does poor resolution prevent us from seeing smaller and smaller identical images within an image. We can now do so — into infinity — but really, why would would we want to? Some things are better left to the imagination.

Tags:
Art
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
1
The Sinai Peninsula and the Dead Sea Rift
J-P Mauro
Experts now believe Sodom was destroyed by a meteor
2
Fr. Michael Rennier
The purpose of life according to J.R.R. Tolkien
3
crisis man
Marzena Devoud
Advice from 3 monks for overcoming acedia
4
Giovanna Binci
He’s autistic, she has Down syndrome, and they’re wonderfully hap...
5
Christ and the woman taken in adultery
Daniel Esparza
What Jesus wrote
6
Cathedral Duomo
Philip Kosloski
Will souls in Hell receive resurrected bodies?
7
FATHER KAPUAN
J-P Mauro
Fr. Kapaun’s remains returned to Kansas after 70 years
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.