Three similar figures perch within three windows. This is a Simorgh, a creature that came to us through Middle Eastern mythology as the embodiment of human form within the figure of a bird. The legendary Simorgh was believed to be so old that it had seen the destruction of the world three times over. Escher actually owned this figurine; it had been a gift from his father-in-law, who acquired it in Azerbaijan and gave it to his daughter and Escher when the newlyweds lived in Italy. Escher kept this small treasure in his home throughout his life and featured it in several important artworks. In this print we see three views of the same creature within three windows that are reflections of one another, connected within a fantastic room constructed with the lines and grids of a mechanical world drawn on graph paper. This precision reinforces the reality of the scene and sets the stage for our voyage beyond this world and into another.
Through the windows we see three scenes that each makes perfect sense and yet is disconnected from the others. In mid-century, when Escher created this print, so many cities had been made unrecognizable by war, and so many people looked out their windows and saw once-familiar scenes that had become alien and unknown. Perhaps Escher felt that his world had been transformed into another world, or many worlds only unified by ambiguity.
From the top of the picture we can look down on the creature and view a cratered moonscape from above, as if we were floating in the heavens. Gazing straight ahead we can look out toward the horizon over the pockmarked landscape and into the dark sky beyond. A comet flashes across the blackness leaving a spray of stars in its wake. The Earth hovers above the horizon, near the center of the picture, commanding our focus. Our planet is distant, far removed, and the magical creature has turned away and looks at us, the viewer, instead of out towards the planets. This messenger confronts us, and it may be our destiny to make sense of these worlds if we dare venture beyond these walls.
And now look up from the bottom of this strange and wonderful picture. We are staring out into the infinite cosmos, where we can see the rings of Saturn and the spiral arms of a distant nebula. Just what is out there we don’t know, but we know we are part of this greater universe part of this cosmic adventure. We have come a long way, yet there are deep mysteries before us. Three horns hang in archways, rather like shofars, should we be ready to sound them and go forth. Perhaps the trumpet-player is the Simorgh, but there is ambiguity in that since two creatures face towards horns but one – the one nearest earth - faces away. The world might change in the blink of an eye and strange sights might be seen through familiar windows. We envision journeys that fill us with excitement as well as trepidation. We have discovered something that is difficult to know or to express, and I believe we have heard the artist’s voice.
In the permanent collection of MoMA: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/61544?artist_id=1757&locale=en&page=1&sov_referrer=artist