Rubens' ceiling

Rubens' ceiling

The crowing glory of Inigo Jones’ building.

Rubens received £3,000 and a gold chain for painting the ceiling canvasses for the Banqueting House.
The significance of the Banqueting House ceiling can hardly be over-stated. It was the crowning glory of Inigo Jones's building and the canvasses, installed by March 1636, confirmed the Banqueting House at the forefront of princely taste.

Rubens is commissioned

The ceiling canvasses were painted by the famous 17th-century Flemish artist, Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and represent the only scheme painted by him to remain in its original position.
They were commissioned by Charles I, probably in 1629-30 when Rubens visited him in England. At this time Rubens was acting as an envoy from the Spanish King, Philip IV.

During this visit he may have executed the preparatory sketch for the ceiling, now on loan to the National Gallery.

Painting on a massive scale

The ceiling canvasses are large - two of them each measure  9 x 6m (approximately 28 x 20ft) and two others 13x3 m (approximately 40 x 10ft).

The large scale of the commission did not deter Rubens, as he relished working on a grand scale and had written to James I's agent in 1621: 'I confess that I am, by natural instinct, better fitted to execute very large works than small curiosities. Everyone according to his gifts; my talent is such that no undertaking, however vast in size or diversified in subject, has ever surpassed my courage.'

'Genii playing with Animals'. The central oval canvas is flanked by two panels showing 'putti' or children playing. The canvasses were painted by Rubens and members of his studio in Antwerp. In October 1635 they were shipped to London and by March 1636 they were in place in the Banqueting House.

Rubens' reward

It appears that Rubens had no intention of accompanying his works to England, and in fact he never saw them in situ. He had to wait two years to be paid the £3,000 which he was due. Charles I also rewarded him with a heavy gold chain.

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