Leonardo da Vinci and M.C. Escher may have been separated by four centuries, but they certainly saw the world eye-to-eye.
David Steel, curator of European art for 33 years at the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA), for one.
“In my mind, of all the artists who followed Leonardo, I think Escher was the most like him,” Steel says.
For starters, they were both lefties. And while Leonardo wrote backwards, Escher was a printmaker who had to think backwards – which would prove a revealing way to view the world.
Then there were the numbers.
“Both learned math early – Escher corresponded with the finest mathematics minds of his time,” he says. “And both used mathematics to understand the harmony of the world and the universe.”
The Dutch-born Escher, who lived from 1898 to 1972, was an avid reader of da Vinci, the Italian who lived from 1452 to 1519. “There’s a point where Leonardo’s studying dew drops and the tension of water on the leaf of a plant,” he says. “One of my favorite prints of Escher’s is a mezzotint of a drop of water on a succulent leaf.”
Both works are in two upcoming NCMA exhibitions opening in October. “We have the mezzotint plate, called Dewdrop – it’s probably 7 x 9 inches, and it’s astonishing,” he says. “Escher was interested in magnification and reflection, so we can see light from a window in it.”
And then there’s the text from da Vinci. “There’s a paragraph that’s rather technical about surface tension and how the shape of a dewdrop is affected by hydrodynamics,” he says. “Escher read Leonardo – I know he did, and pretty carefully – because he quotes from Leonardo’s manuscripts, published in Italian.”
The Escher exhibit, with more than 130 works – prints, drawings, watercolors, mezzotints, lithographic stones, and wood blocks – opens Oct. 17. The da Vinci exhibition of 36 sheets, printed on both sides, with 250 sketches, opens on Oct. 31.
“It’s a peek into Leonardo’s brain, and how he gets from A to Z,” he says.
And like M.C. Escher, a lucky few in Carolina will be allowed the opportunity to follow along – until the shows close on Jan. 17.