A unique masterpiece from the golden age of painting
The ceiling of the Banqueting House is the only surviving in-situ ceiling painting by Flemish artist, Sir Peter Paul Rubens.
The canvases were 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.
Rubens was not deterred by the large scale of his commission. In a 1621 letter to James I's agent, he wrote, 'I confess that I am, by natural instinct, better fitted to execute very large works than small curiosities.'
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).
When the canvases were first unrolled on the floor, Inigo Jones and Rubens' assistants realised with mounting horror that they were too big to fit in the ceiling.
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.
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.
Follow our conservators as they examine Rubens' ceiling during conservation work completed in 2018 in this short film.