Droste effect

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The woman holds an object bearing a smaller image of her holding the same object, which in turn bears a smaller image of her holding the same object, and so on.
Example of the Droste effect in a spiraling format
Example of Droste effect using Chrome Remote Desktop.

The Droste effect — known as mise en abyme in art — is the effect of a picture appearing within itself, in a place where a similar picture would realistically be expected to appear.[1] The appearance is recursive: the smaller version contains an even smaller version of the picture, and so on. Only in theory could this go on forever; practically, it continues only as long as the resolution of the picture allows, which is relatively short, since each iteration geometrically reduces the picture's size. It is a visual example of a strange loop, a self-referential system of instancing which is the cornerstone of fractal geometry.


The effect is named after the image on the tins and boxes of Droste cocoa powder, one of the main Dutch brands, which displayed a nurse carrying a serving tray with a cup of hot chocolate and a box with the same image.[2] This image, introduced in 1904 and maintained for decades with slight variations, became a household notion. Reportedly, poet and columnist Nico Scheepmaker introduced wider usage of the term in the late 1970s.[3]

The Droste effect was used by Giotto di Bondone in 1320, in his Stefaneschi Triptych. The polyptych altarpiece portrays in its center panel Cardinal Giacomo Gaetani Stefaneschi offering the triptych itself to St. Peter.[4] There are also several examples from medieval times of books featuring images containing the book itself or window panels in churches depicting miniature copies of the window panel itself. [5]


Land O'Lakes Butter packaging has an Indian maiden carrying a package of butter with a picture of herself.

Bottles of Clicquot Club soda showed brand mascot "Clicquot" the Eskimo boy holding a bottle of Clicquot Club soda.

The cover of the vinyl album Ummagumma by Pink Floyd shows a band member sitting, with a picture on the wall. The picture shows the same scene with a different band member and the effect continues for all four band members, with the picture for the fourth being the cover of their previous album A Saucerful of Secrets.

In the 1971 science fiction film Escape from the Planet of the Apes, the character Dr. Otto Hasslein (Eric Braeden) attempts to explain the appearance in present day of intelligent apes from Earth's future. Hasslein uses a painting on a CRT monitor to illustrate an effect he refers to as "infinite regression." The demonstration consists of a camera pulling away from a picture of an artist painting a picture, on a suggested infinite loop.

The logo of cheese spread brand The Laughing Cow bears the Droste effect.

In the 1980s, Chicago Cubs announcer Harry Caray regularly appeared on television station WGN-TV standing next to a television set that was tuned to WGN showing Caray and the TV, thus forming a Droste effect.

The title sequence of the eighth series of the British TV series Doctor Who features the show's TARDIS emerging from a spiraling Droste effect clockface.[6]

This effect can also occur on a computer if the copy of the entire monitor screen is reproduced within one window. For example, the image on the right was created by creating a connection from a computer to itself using Chrome Remote Desktop.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nänny. Max and Fischer, Olga, The Motivated Sign: Iconicity in Language and Literature p. 37, John Benjamins Publishing Company (2001) ISBN 90-272-2574-5
  2. ^ Törnqvist, Egil. Ibsen: A Doll's House, pp.105, Cambridge University Press (1995) ISBN 0-521-47866-9
  3. ^ "Droste, altijd welkom". cultuurarchief.nl. 
  4. ^ "Giotto di Bondone and assistants: Stefaneschi triptych". vatican.va. 
  5. ^ See the collection of articles Medieval 'mise-en-abyme': the object depicted within itself for examples and opinions on how this effect was used symbolically.
  6. ^ Title sequence by Billy Hanshaw adapted from his design as a fan of the show.

External links[edit]