Ascending and Descending
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|Artist||M. C. Escher|
|Dimensions||35.5 cm × 28.5 cm (14.0 in × 11.2 in)|
The original print measures 14" x 11 1/4”. The lithograph depicts a large building roofed by a never-ending staircase. Two lines of identically dressed men appear on the staircase, one line ascending whilst the other descends. Two figures sit apart from the people on the endless staircase: one in a secluded courtyard, the other on a lower set of stairs. While most two-dimensional artists use relative proportions to create an illusion of depth, Escher here and elsewhere uses conflicting proportions to create the visual paradox.
Ascending and Descending was influenced by, and is an artistic implementation of, the Penrose stairs, an impossible object; Lionel Penrose had first published his concept in the February, 1958 issue of the British Journal of Psychology. Escher developed the theme further in his print Waterfall, which appeared in 1961.
The two concentric processions on the stairs use enough people to emphasise the lack of vertical rise and fall. In addition, the shortness of the tunics worn by the people makes it clear that some are stepping up and some are stepping down.
The structure is embedded in human activity. By showing an unaccountable ritual of what Escher calls an 'unknown' sect, Escher has added an air of mystery to the people who ascend and descend the stairs. Therefore, the stairs themselves tend to become incorporated into that mysterious appearance.
There are 'free' people and Escher said of these: 'recalcitrant individuals refuse, for the time being, to take part in the exercise of treading the stairs. They have no use for it at all, but no doubt, sooner or later they will be brought to see the error of their non-conformity.'
Escher suggests that not only the labours, but the very lives of these monk-like people are carried out in as inescapable, coercive and bizarre environment.
References in popular culture
This well-known, enigmatic print has been referenced in numerous movies and television episodes.
- In The Simpsons episode Treehouse of Horror IV, Homer is seen chasing Bart up and down the impossible stairs of the lithograph.
- In the video game Gauntlet: Dark Legacy, the final level of the Dream Realm, known as the "Maze of Illusion", has an impossible staircase near the beginning that is similar to this lithograph.
- In the French comic Game Over (a spin-off of Kid Paddle), the hero follows a staircase that appears similar to the staircase in this lithograph.
- In the movie The Avengers, there is an impossible staircase.
- In the 1995 French film by Mathieu Kassovitz entitled "La Haine" (USA Title: "Hate"), there is a print of Ascending and Descending leaning against a mirror in Asterix's Parisian apartment. Hubert, one of the main characters, takes a moment in the background of the scene to examine it, and it remains conspicuously visible.
- In the 1994 Broderbund game Prince of Persia 2 the final battle between protagonist and antagonist takes place on an enormous Escher-esque construction.
- In vol. 2 of the manga continuation of the movie Labyrinth, "Return to Labyrinth", Toby Williams tried finding his way to the top of a tower and finds himself at a staircase similar to that of in Ascending and Descending. Labyrinth also features things inspired from Escher's work.
- Locher, J.L. (2000). The Magic of M. C. Escher. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. ISBN 0-8109-6720-0.