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Rubens ceiling

A masterpiece from the golden age of painting

A masterpiece from the golden age of painting

When

  • Open daily

Important information

Included in palace admission (members go free) Buy Banqueting House tickets

A truly unique masterpiece

The ceiling of the Banqueting House is a masterpiece and the only surviving in-situ ceiling painting by Flemish artist, Sir Peter Paul Rubens. It is also one of the most famous works from the golden age of painting.

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.

Most likely commissioned by Charles I in 1629-30, this ceiling was one of his last sights before he lost his head. The King was executed on a scaffold outside on Whitehall in 1649.

The genius of Rubens' ceiling

‘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.

Indeed, the ceiling canvasses are large - individually, two of them measure 28 x 20ft (approximately 9 x 6m) and two others measure 40 x 10ft (approximately 13 x 3m).

An immeasurable problem

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.

Artist not in residence

It appears that Rubens never saw his works inside the Banqueting House. He wrote to a friend, 'In as much as I have a horror of courts, I sent my work to England in the hands of someone else.'

After an initial two-year delay, Rubens received £3,000 (the equivalent of £218,000 today) and a heavy gold chain as payment for his work.

Fountain Court, looking west. The courtyard fountain can just be seen through an archway on the left.
Member only Tours and talks

Get an expert’s guide of what there is to see and do at each palace with one of our State Apartment Warders at Hampton Court.

22 November and 22 December 2018, 18 January and 16 February 2019

Hampton Court Palace

11:00 and 14:00

Exterior of Banqueting House with Whitehall in the foreground under a blue, partially cloudy sky
Highlights Things to see

Walk in the footsteps of the condemned King and stand on the spot of Charles I's execution, just outside Banqueting House.

Open daily

Banqueting House

Highlights Things to see

Experience James I's breathtaking Banqueting Hall, created in 1622 as a venue for extravagant Jacobean entertainments.

Open daily

Banqueting House

1 hour