Breaking Down Rubin’s Vase

One of our favorite illusions (and a guest favorite, too) is Rubin’s Vase. While you definitely could use it to display your favorite springtime flowers, we think that would be a huge waste of potential. The only real way to experience the full potential of Rubin’s Vase is to step into the Museum of Illusions, give it a spin, and see how many faces you can find. That’s right, Rubin’s Vase hides human faces in plain sight.

More than just a vase that will blow your mind, this is the perfect example of an optical illusion that you can find in your everyday life. This phenomenon occurs intentionally, and accidentally, in art, in nature, and in design (more on that later). Once you see it, you’ll never be able to unsee it. So sit back, relax, and let’s talk about the coolest vase in existence.

What is Rubin’s Vase and How Does it Work

The Rubin’s Vase Ambiguous Figure, also known as the Figure-ground Vase and Rubin’s Face, is best demonstrated by a white vase positioned against a black background. At first glance, it appears as your run-of-the-mill vase that your mother might display on her mantle. When looked at for a second time, the vase reveals the outline of a face in profile. Take a look at the picture below, and see if you can find the hidden faces.

The Rubin's Vase at the Museum of Illusions NYC
The Rubin’s Vase at the Museum of Illusions NYC.

Rubin’s Vase is a great example of a Cognitive Illusion, which is an illusion that indicates the viewer’s perception of the world.

Ambiguous Figure Illusions

Ambiguous Figure Illusions are the most common type of Cognitive Illusions, and they are most often designed on purpose. You have definitely seen an Ambiguous Figure on the MOI blog before, in this post where we discussed My Wife and Mother-in-law. Essentially, an Ambiguous Figure occurs as a hidden figure or picture (intentional or not) in a high-contrast image.

Many artists that are famous for optical illusion artwork utilize Ambiguous Figures in their work, but some of the most fascinating examples occur unintentionally. Let’s take a look at other pieces similar to Rubin’s Vase. 

Other Examples of Ambiguous Figure Illusions

Another Ambiguous Figure that we have touched on before is Kanizsa’s Triangle, pictured below. Like Rubin’s Vase, Kanizsa’s Triangle takes advantage of contrast and empty space to force the viewer to see shapes that aren’t there.

An example of Kanizsa's Triangle optical illusion by the Museum of Illusions New York City.
Kanizsa’s Triangle. How many triangles and circles do you see?

The image below of an Idaho State Scenic Route sign is a perfect example of an ambiguous figure occurring unintentionally. The white shape of the state of Idaho positioned against the brown background reveals a face in profile. It definitely wasn’t meant to be there, but we love a happy accident.

An Idaho state sign that hides an ambiguous figure illusion.
This Idaho state sign hides an ambiguous figure. Can you find the face?

Like we said before, the best way to experience Rubin’s Vase and other ambiguous figure illusions is in person. So, plan a visit to the Museum of Illusions NYC to see how many faces you can spot hidden in our favorite vase. Click here to book your tickets!