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October 27, 2022

Looking Up: Studies for Ceilings, 1550-1800

Andrea Pozzo, "Illusionistic Architecture for the Vault of San Ignazio"

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

Looking Up: Studies for Ceilings, 1550–1800
National Gallery of Art, Washington, January 29–July 9, 2023

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.

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

The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

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