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Ten Artful Ceilings to Look Up To

The Sistine Chapel is spectacular. That’s pretty much a unanimous point of agreement. But it’s time we turned our attention to the wealth of brilliant ceiling artworks living in its shadow. They float high above us in museums, theatres, and places of worship the world over. All we have to do is remember to look up and we’ll discover vast celestial domains, spectacularly illusionistic domes, and astounding theatrical narratives. Read on for an introduction to the wonderful worlds suspended just above our heads…

Salvador Dalí’s Palace of the Wind

Salvador Dalí’s Palace of the Wind ceiling (1972) at the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres, Spain; photographed by Alexander

Spellbindingly strange and delightfully original, this ceiling mural is unmistakably Dalí. Surrealistic elements punctuate the ethereal atmosphere, luring us into the details of the alternate universe created by this maestro of the bizarre.

Mark Chagall’s Ceiling at the Palais Garnier

Marc Chagall’s ceiling (1964) at the Palais Garnier in Paris, France

Here Chagall offers a playful take on the often-subdued domain of the opera house. His youthful, vivacious figures prance amidst classically opulent golden fixtures, greeting patrons with a colourful sense of creativity and joie de vivre. As far as paintings on ceilings go, this is unequivocally a winner.

Cy Twombly’s Ceiling at the Louvre

Cy Twombly’s ceiling (2007 – 2009) in the Salle des Bronzes at The Louvre in Paris, France; photographed by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra

True to form, Twombly keeps his ceiling simple. He lures viewers in with an electrifying blue hue, which creates the perfect backdrop for the planets to shine as they orbit around the perimeter of the room.

James Turrell’s Skyspaces

James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany Skyspace (2012) at Rice University in Houston, USA

American light artist, James Turrell has mastered the art of visual trickery. Through his manipulation of colour and light, he conjures nothing short of the sublime. In other words, his Skyspace series is incredibly trippy and well worth a look. With over 80 installations across the globe, chances are there’s one for you.

Andrea Pozzo’s Ceiling at Sant’Ignazio

Andrea Pozzo’s ceiling (1685) at the Church of Sant’Ignazio in Rome, Italy; photographed by Bruce McAdam
Andrea Pozzo’s tromp l’oeil dome (1685) at the Church of Sant’Ignazio in Rome, Italy

Andrea Pozzo’s masterpiece is widely considered the pinnacle of baroque illusionistic painting. He creates an entirely new domain out of thin air, painting space into being and then filling it with a rich cast of characters playing out a dramatic zero-gravity narrative. In reality the “dome” element of the ceiling is, architecturally speaking, nothing more than a shallow dip. Yet, his skilful tromp l’oeil manipulation of form blasts the meagre basin into an ornate aerial alcove.

Colin Gill’s Ceiling at Blenheim Palace

Colin Gill’s ceiling (1928) of the North Portico at Blenheim Palace in Oxford, UK; photographed by Nuno Margarido Lopes 

Gladys Marie Deacon had this spectacular display painted in 1928 to greet, or perhaps pre-emptively survey, her guests at Blenheim Palace’s North Portico. Allegedly, her marriage to Sunny Spencer-Churchill, the 9thDuke of Marlborough, was not a particularly happy one. So, one wonders if the installation may have been a message of omniscience to those residing in the house, as well.

The Ceiling of the Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque

Ceiling of the Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque (1876 – 1888) in Shiraz, Iran – Architects: Mohammad Hasan Memar, Mohammad Hosseini Naqqash Shirazi, and Mohammad Reza Kashipaz; photographed by Diego Delso

The ceiling of the Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque is nothing short of hypnotic. When the technicoloured tiles are met with the stained light which streams through the surrounding windows, it’s enough to send even the most nonchalant of visitors tumbling into wonderment.

Miquel Barceló’s Ceiling at The UN Headquarters

Miquel Barceló’s ceiling (2006 – 2008) of the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilisations Room at the United Nations Office at Geneva, Switzerland; photographed by Maina Kiai

Miquel Barceló’s marvel of a ceiling is very much a product of its environment within the United Nations headquarters. The piece was inspired by the topography of the many diverse lands represented in the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilisations Room. It creates an inspiring, uplifting atmosphere to come together under the same sky for the common good.

Gustav Klimt’s Ceiling at the Burgtheater

Gustav Klimt’s ceiling (1886 – 1888) of the Burgtheater in Vienna, Austria

Here Klimt has translated his characteristically visceral, romantic style of painting to a monumental scale. His wistful scenes aptly feature personas such as Thespis, the original actor of Greek classicism, to set the tone as patrons enter Vienna’s great theatre.

The Ceiling at Sagrada Família

The crossing and dome of Sagrada Família basilica in Barcelona, Spain (begun 1882); photographed by SBA73

The never-ending story that is Sagrada Família has, over the years, developed a dramatic sense of verticality, its ceiling emerging as a sinuous tangle of architectural styles. The combination of oculi, columns, and coffers comes together to awe-inspiring affect. It’s a space that truly does defy description; you’ve simply got to see it for yourself.

 

 

Text by Annabel Colterjohn

 

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