From Banksy to Signorelli: The History of Ladders in Art

From Banksy to Signorelli: The History of Ladders in Art

20th January 2020

The best artists can use everyday objects to give us a fresh way of looking at the world. To this end, some of the most talented artists of all time have used ladders in their work to get a point across. If you’ve seen any of the following works of art, you may have wondered why they included a ladder.

Banksy Painted a Workman Chiselling Out a Star from the EU Flag

Mysterious street artist Banksy produced another of his thought-provoking masterpieces in May 2017. This time, a run-down building near the ferry terminal in Dover was the setting for a painting showing his thoughts on Brexit.

It featured a workman standing on a long ladder in front of the European Union flag. The worker is chiselling out a star, causing cracks to spread out over the rest of the flag. This was widely interpreted to be a criticism of Brexit rather than a comment on safety ladders or anything else. 

The artist tweeted later that he had been planning to update it to show the flag crumpled on the ground. However, the authorities whitewashed the wall before he could do this. Banksy pointed out that "a big white flag says it just as well”.

Jacob’s Ladder is a Popular Subject

Jacob’s ladder is a biblical image that is said to represent the connection between God and mankind. Jacob sees angels climbing the ladder. This idea has inspired many artists throughout the centuries to paint their version of the ladder that Jacob saw.

Some of them included an actual ladder in the painting. This includes Le songe de Jacob by French artist Nicolas Dipre, in which a sleeping Jacob is oblivious to the angels ascending the ladder behind him. 

Another well-known version is Jacob’s Dream by Spanish painter José de Ribera. It can be seen in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. One of the interesting aspects of this work of art is that the ladder is represented by a beam of light rather than a physical ladder with rungs on it.

Man on a Ladder by Luca Signorelli

Italian renaissance painter Luca Signorelli was one of the most important artists of the era. He painted a number of beautiful works of art, including church frescoes. Man on a Ladder can be seen at the National Gallery in London.

However, this picture on its own seems somewhat mysterious. All we can see is a sad-looking man climbing a ladder while holding some sort of a tool in his hand. What does it all mean? To fully understand this painting, we need to know that it is one of 6 pieces that once belonged to one giant piece of art. 

Signorelli painted an altarpiece called Lamentation at the Foot of the Cross at the start of the 16th century. It was later cut up and the different segments ended up in various parts of the world. The tool in his hand is a pair of pliers, which have just been used to remove the nails from Christ’s hands.