In modern architecture and contemporary interior design, ceilings have lost much of their original, complex meaning, becoming neutral fields or featuring generic decoration. However, in the European tradition that spanned nearly four centuries, ceilings were where the most ambitious, compelling, and meaningful painted compositions appeared.
Looking Up: Studies for Ceilings, 1550–1800 presents some 30 examples of the evolution of ceiling decoration. These works move from architectural frameworks housing conventional paintings to the illusion of a single, soaring space teeming with figures and dynamic movement during the baroque, and then on to the geometric organization and idealized form associated with neoclassism.
Some of the drawings are vibrant preliminary studies; others are large-scale models that give a sense of the experience of the intended final composition. Studies of single motifs and individual figures reveal how these grand projects enticed viewers to pause and look up.