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Looking Up: Studies for Ceilings, 1550–1800

Past Exhibition

January 29 – July 9, 2023
West Building, Ground Floor, G22

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.

Explore Selected Works

Organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington

The exhibition is curated by Jonathan Bober, former Andrew W. Mellon Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings, National Gallery of Art.

Admission is always free and passes are not required

Banner detail: Andrea Pozzo, Illusionistic Architecture for the Vault of San Ignazio, 1685/1690, pen and gray and brown ink with gray wash on two joined sheets of heavy laid paper, overall: 50.4 x 91.2 cm (19 13/16 x 35 7/8 in.), National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert M. and Anne T. Bass, 1994.16.1