The Queen's Speech

Most people are familiar with the Ambiguous Vase illusion. Devised by the Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin, we are not sure if we are looking at a vase, or at two faces, staring at each other.

In 1977, a wonderful 3 dimensional version of this illusion was made, to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth. It was a porcelain vase, but one with a wonderful twist. The profile on one side of the vase was of Her Majesty, but on the other side of the vase, the profile was of Prince Philip. And as you followed the contours around the vase, one profile morphed seamlessly into the other.

Because of this, the vase is asymmetrical - you might almost call it lopsided. And this proved a problem when firing the vases in the kiln - quite a few of them did not survive the firing process. And apparently, of those that did survive, Her Majesty liked the result so much that she bought a number of the vases herself. So what was always intended to be a limited edition, became an even more limited edition!

The particular effect that we demonstrate here is to place the vase on a turntable, so that it is constantly rotating. When you look at one side of the vase, the profile therefore is continually morphing from that of the Queen to that of Prince Philip. The other really nice feature is that because the shape of the mouth changes as you move around the vase, it looks as if they are talking to each other.

Hence our name for this wonderful effect - 'The Queen's Speech'.

When the vase was on sale in 1977, it was sold for 150 (about US$270). However nearly 30 years on, the vases change hands for considerably more than that!

Watch the video

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