Rubens’ ceiling

Rubens’ ceiling

A masterpiece from the golden age of painting 

The only surviving in-situ painting by Rubens

The ceiling of the Banqueting House is a masterpiece and the only surviving in-situ ceiling painting by Sir Peter Paul Rubens. It is also one of the most famous from a golden age of painting. It composed of two canvasses measure 28x20ft (9x6m) and two others 40x10ft (13x3m).

The ceiling was one of Charles I’s last sights before he lost his head. The King was executed on a scaffold outside in 1649.

The canvases were painted by Rubens and installed in the hall in 1636. The three main canvasses depict The Union of the Crowns, The Apotheosis of James I and The Peaceful Reign of James I.

An ambitious artwork

‘I confess that I am, by natural instinct, better fitted to execute very large works than small curiosities.’ Rubens in a 1621 letter to James I’s agent was not deterred by the large scale of the commission. 

When the canvases were first unrolled on the floor, Inigo Jones and Rubens’ assistants realised with mounting horror that they wouldn’t fit in the ceiling. The problem had occurred because although both Belgium and England measured in feet and inches, each country used a different length for a foot. Drastic moderations had to be made on site to make them fit.

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