First models of the 'impossible triangle' and 'impossible staircase', designed and constructed by Roger Penrose and Lionel Sharples Penrose FRS, England, 1955-1959
First models of the 'impossible triangle' and 'impossible staircase', designed and constructed by Roger Penrose (b. 1931) and Lionel Sharples Penrose FRS (1898-1972), England, 1955-1959
The Penroses were inspired by the Dutch artist M C Escher (1898-1972) and vice versa. In 1954 Roger heard a lecture by Escher, and then drew the impossible triangle in the form with which we are now familiar. It had actually previously been drawn, unknown to him, in another form by the Swedish artist Oscar Reutersvard. The Penroses published in 1958, sending Escher a copy. Escher modelled his lithograph Waterfall on the triangle in 1961, adding polyhedra ‘only because I like them’. While it is easy to draw the impossible triangle in 2D, the Penroses also made a 3D model to be viewed from a certain position.
In the same paper as the impossible triangle, the Penroses introduced the impossible staircase. ‘Actual objects, suitably designed, when viewed from particular angles, can give exactly the same impression as inconsistent drawings.’ This model was photographed so as to give the impression of an impossible staircase. Again, Escher used the concept in his famous Ascending and Descending, published in 1960.
- Object Number:
- optical puzzle
- visual and verbal communication
- furnishing and equipment
- tools & equipment
- optical demonstration equipment
- Newman, M.
Cite this page
We encourage the use and reuse of our collection data.
Data in the title, made, maker and details fields are released under Creative Commons Zero
Descriptions and all other text content are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 licence
Download catalogue entry as json
View manifest in IIIF viewer
Download manifest IIIF
Our records are constantly being enhanced and improved, but please note that we cannot guarantee the accuracy of any information shown on this website.