In Escher's terrifying interpretation of Hell--based largely on a detail of The Garden of Earthly Delights (1480-1505) by Hieronymus Bosch--moral and religious judgment becomes the theme through which he explores Surrealist style and iconography.
Hell is simultaneously grotesque and curious, the composition jarring and illogical. A ladder in the center foreground leads up to a cavernous shell of a man's torso suspended above two tree trunk arms whose roots are hidden within a pair of ships stranded in a chilling expanse of dark ice. Figures inside this hollow man engage in drunken debauchery while anthropomorphic bird-insects and abashedly naked humans ominously circle in varying stages of digression. The movement of figures on the ladder and around the ice presents its own bizarre logic that echoes Escher's later geometric compositions.
The visual cues we crave from Escher--geometry and balance, order and illusionism--are made topsy-turvy and yet Escher's cropping of the original image and slight rearranging of the figures also creates a strong visual rhythm between them. Perhaps Escher was drawn to The Garden of Earthly Delights because he saw in it a similarly ordered chaos onto which he could apply his own system of illogical order.