• Paul Anthony Jones

Droste Effect

(n.) an artistic technique in which an image contains a smaller version of itself

The Droste effect (pronounced “dros-tuh”, as if rhyming with “foster”) is an artistic technique in which an image contains a smaller version of itself—which in turn, if it were to continue, would contain an even smaller version of itself, and so on.

This curious recursive technique is also known by the French term mise en abyme (‘placed into the abyss’). But the name Droste comes from a Dutch brand of powdered chocolate named Droste Cacao, which was once marketed in tins that featured a design of precisely this type.


Designed by the artist Jan Misset, the tin was decorated with an image of a nurse holding a tin of Droste chocolate, on which was an image of a nurse holding a tin of Droste chocolate, on which was an image of a nurse holding a tin of Droste chocolate, on which was an image of a nurse holding a tin of Droste chocolate... yeah, you get the idea.

Misset designed the famous Droste packaging in 1904, but the Droste effect itself is by no means a twentieth-century invention: in his Stefaneschi Triptych of 1320, the pre-Renaissance artist Giotto famously depicted the eponymous Cardinal Giacomo Gaetani Stefaneschi holding a copy of his own triptych.

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