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Tabula What?

Jackie Valentine, Exhibits Experience Lead at the Fleet Science Center.
Let’s flashback to around the year 1580. You’re an English painter and you’re really tired of painting just one picture on your canvas and need to get more of these paintings done. You’re on your way to work just walking down the road (because cars aren’t a thing yet) and you think to yourself “Self, why don’t I just make two paintings in the same place?” So, you cook up this crazy idea to make two paintings in a way that you can only see one at a time. Almost 50 years later, someone who goes by Athanasius Kircher names your creation Tabula Scalata, and the rest is history!
Tabula Scalata (in English, Ladder Picture) is a technique where two surfaces are staggered from one another and oriented at right angles so that each image is only seen fully when looked at straight on and not from an angle. If I was to have named this I would have named it Stairs Picture because these angles look more like stair steps than a ladder. But Athanasius Kircher got there first, so we’re gonna go with his choice. You may think this sort of thing is rare, but it is actually more common than you think.   
If you have ever seen a long set of stairs that has been painted to have a picture spread across the fronts of each of the steps, then you have seen a Tabula Scalata. The 16th Avenue Steps in San Francisco by Aileen Barr and Colette Crutcher are a great example of this. And a lot of major cities across the world have stairs very similar to this just with different pictures. Now that you know what a Tabula Scalata is, I’m sure you’ll be spotting them all around you.   



Since Tabula Scalata is such a simple art form, it’s pretty easy to make one of your own. You can learn how to do it with materials you can find at home. Check out our video about it right here and don’t forget to subscribe to be in the know about other great projects you can make from home!


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