In terms of physics, a staircase is a lever or a treadmill. that multiplies energy. While Superman can leap tall buildings in a single leap, the rest of us can only reach such heights with a sustained expenditure of energy. The aunt of Frenchman Jacques-Henri Lartigue seems to have mastered the "leap" decades before Superman.
When the gestalt psychologist Wolfgang Kohler wanted to measure the intelligence of chimpanzees during World War I, he built a staircase. Then he placed a bunch of bananas at the top and waited to see what the chimps would do.
According to Aristotle, the stairway represented the divine order of the universe. In their metaphysical ambition to link heaven and earth, the early Mesopotamians melded the stairway and the spiral when they created their legendary ziggurat. The double helix staircase at Chateau de Chambord, its design attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, is a puzzle ( how can you see another person on the stairs but not meet them face to face?).
Clerics and all manner of royal personages have deployed stairways in grandiose ceremonies and buildings. The same impulse appears in modern popular songs with such titles as Stairway To The Stars, Stairway To Paradise, and Stairway To Heaven. Aspects of worship or pilgrimage are often associated with climbing, as in a Jacob's Ladder.
A stairway implies the magic and mystery of the transitory, the idea of ascending toward the invisible with all its attendant symbolism. A spiral or helix stairway could be energy frozen in time and space, like freezing water. The seven white stairs and the seven millstones of Sevres combine layers of symbolism in marmoreal tranquility.
1. Georgia O'Keeffe - Ladder To The Moon, 1958, Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC.
2. Eliot Elisofon - time-lapse photograph of Marcel Duchamp descending a staircase - NYC, 1952, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
3. Jacques-Henri Lartigue - My Aunt, 1906, Association des Amis de J.-H. Lartigue, Paris.
4. Oskar Schlemmer - Bauhaus Stiarway, 1932, Museum of Modern Art, NYC.
5. Carlo Ponti - Palazzo Contarini della Scala, c. 1850s, National Galleries of Scotland.
6. Kokkei Shinbun Sha, publisher - Worshipers Going To the Oku No In From Ehagati Sekai, 1907, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
7. Bernard de Jongghe - The Seven White Stairs And The Seven Millstones, 1990, Cite de la ceramique, Sevres.
8. Pierre Henri de Valenciennes (1750-1819) - A Cobblestone Stairway Covered With Moss, undated, Louvre Museum, Paris.
9. Andre Kertesz - Le parc de Sceaux in Autumn, 1926, Mediatheque, Paris.