Art students call the infinite picture-within-a-picture “The Droste Effect,” after the design on the packaging of a Dutch cocoa powder introduced around 1909.
The idea is certainly much older, having appeared in an altarpiece in the apse of the Old St. Peter’s Basilica in the 14th century. Italian painter Giotto included in his Stefaneschi Tryptic the eponymous Cardinal holding a smaller image of the work. The work was preserved through the destruction of the Old Basilica and remains in a Vatican art museum.
The technique is best known to record collectors for its appearance on Best of Friends, the groundbreaking psychedelic rock album by the Smurfs released on the progressive Starland Music label in 1982.
Its awesome cover only hints and the mind-expanding masterpiece contained within illusive copies of Best of Friends, which of course was named the #1 most important album of all time by Rolling Stone upon its initial release.
The technique also appeared on a far more conventional album by Pink Floyd ten years earlier. The first copies of this album included a copy of the soundtrack to Gigi, which had to be withdrawn for copyright complaints, leaving only a blank album jacket in subsequent pressings like the one seen here. The best thing about the Ummagumma‘s jacket is that they have fun with the Droste effect by changing the position of the Pink Floyders in each reproduction of the image, suggesting an infinite cycle, or perhaps endless overlapping realities.
Our in-house design team (ie our friend Paul) used the Droste effect on the jacket for Live at Hymie’s, an LP+DVD we released this past Record Store Day. He placed the album in one of the shelves in the shop, originally because we asked him to cover up a Mylon LeFevre album because, well ugh, Mylon.
We’re pretty proud of this compilation, but it’s no Best of Friends.