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4 Tutorials that teach Ceiling Frescoes
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Ceiling Frescoes

Ceiling Frescoes

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will explore several examples of ceiling fresco painting from the Baroque period.

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Tutorial

An overview of Italian ceiling frescoes.

Video Transcription

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of "Exploring Art History with Ian." My name is Ian McConnell. And today's lesson is about ceiling frescoes. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. As soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you will be able to identify and define today's key terms, describe the use of trompe l'oeil and perspective in 16th and 17th century ceiling frescoes, and identify examples of this type of artwork. Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson.

First key term is Counter Reformation, also called the Catholic Revival or Reformation. It was a response to the Protestant Reformation. It lasted from the Council of Trent to the end of the Thirty Years' War. Illusionistic, the use of perspective in painting to create the impression of a three dimensional space on a two dimensional surface, or a philosophy that promotes the material world as an illusion.

Trompe l'oeil is an artistic technique that creates an optical illusion, usually of a three dimensional space on a flat surface. And as seen from below, a specific approach used in painting Italian ceiling frescoes that depicts an illusionistic scene taking place above the viewer. A big idea for today is that the Counter Reformation was very influential on the development of this highly dramatic and persuasive religious imagery.

And we are looking at the time period from 1597 to 1694, almost 100 years. We are back in Italy. Now ceiling frescoes are an interesting subcategory of work. And on a basic level, they aren't any different than regular frescoes, at least in terms of how they're made. Stylistically, however, artists use the unique perspective in truly innovative ways, creating a sense of awe and wonder in the buildings where these paintings resided.

Now the artist known as Annibale Carracci originated from Rome. His fresco titled The Loves of the Gods was a series of frescoes painted on the ceiling and upper walls of the Palazzo Farnese in Rome. Now it's more or less just as it says. It's depicting images from the Greek and Roman mythology of gods and the women they loved, such as Perseus and Andromeda. Perseus can be seen on Pegasus about to turn the Kraken to stone with Medusa's severed head. Jupiter and Juno and the triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne.

Now his style recalls the works of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel frescoes, as well as the colors of Titian. His use of illusionism, in particular the painted frames that set the images apart from each other, is indicative of a stylistic elements that was pervasive in the ceiling frescoes of the 17th century.

The artist Guido Reni trained in the same Bologna art academy as Carracci. In a similar fashion as Carracci, Guido's-- as he was known-- Guido's Aurora is surrounded by a very convincing, albeit painted, frame. It depicts Aurora leading dawn in the chariot and his entourage across the sky, bringing forth a new day. There's dawn and his entourage. And it shows influence from classical Roman triumphal processions, as well as from Renaissance masters, like Raphael, in his depiction of forms.

And no stranger to elaborate depictions glorifying his family, Pope Urban VIII commissioned this ceiling fresco by the artist, Pietro da Cortona as a way of commemorating his family and insuring their legacy in the hearts and minds of the people.

Now it's an amazing example of the seen-from-below technique in which the ceiling appears to be blown through the roof, revealing Divine Providence with the halo directing Immortality, who is placing a crown of stars, symbolizing eternal life on the Barberini family. Now the personifications of hope, charity, and faith are holding a wreath that encircles three B's right in the center, the symbol the Barberini family, which can also be seen on the St. Peter's Baldacchino from Bernini also commissioned by Pope Urban VIII, who was of the Barberini family.

Paintings like the ceiling fresco called Triumph in the Name of Jesus are considered extremely important by the Catholic church. Where the Protestant Church prohibited in many cases the use of artwork in churches, the Catholic church via the influence of the Counter Reformation saw these highly dramatic works of art as vital forms of persuasive religious imagery, examples that would encourage faith and religious conversion.

Now just as with Cortona's fresco, the ceiling appears to be blown through the roof, revealing the golden light of heaven shining down. Now the artistry exhibited is truly remarkable. The painting is so well integrated with the architecture that it's almost impossible to tell what's real and what's painted, and is an excellent example of trompe l'oeil. Christ is represented by the monogram IHS beneath a cross, but almost invisible due to the backdrop of blinding light from heaven in contrast to the dark shadow of sinners that I showed you earlier falling back to Earth.

And one of the finest examples of trompe l'oeil is the ceiling fresco painted by a Jesuit monk, Fra Andrea Pozzo. Now Pozzo extends the architecture of the church through painting, creating the impression of tremendous verticality that opens upwards towards heaven and the figure of Christ with St. Ignatius rising toward his savior. Now again, it's almost impossible to tell where the real architecture ends and the painting begins, creating a truly awe-inspiring sensation and tremendously spiritual moment for the pious observer below. Here's another view of that architecture extending and creating, again, that sense of verticality.

All right. That brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives again to see how we did.

Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Describe the use of trompe l'oeil and perspective in 16th and 17th century ceiling frescoes? And identify examples of this type of artwork? And the big idea for today is that the Counter Reformation was very influential on the development of this highly dramatic and persuasive religious imagery.

And that is it. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Notes on "Ceiling Frescoes"

Key Terms

Counter-Reformation

Also called the Catholic Revival or Reformation, it was a response to the Protestant Reformation, and lasted from the Council of Trent to the end of the Thirty Years' War. 

Illusionistic

The use of perspective in painting to create the impression of three dimensional space on a two dimensional surface; or a philosophy that promotes the material world as an illusion. 

Trompe l'oeil

An artistic technique that creates an optical illusion, usually of a three dimensional space on a flat surface.

"As Seen From Below"

A specific approach used in painting Italian ceiling frescoes that depicts an illusionistic scene taking place above the viewer.

Citations

Aurora; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Guido_Reni_-_Aurora_-_WGA19273.jpg Triumph of Providence; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cortona_Triumph_of_Divine_Providence_01.jpg Triumph in the Name of Jesus; Creative Commons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rome-EgliseGesu-Fresque.jpg Glorification of St. Ignatius; Creative Commons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Andrea_Pozzo_-_Apoteose_de_Santo_Inacio.jpg; Image of Italy Map Creative Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/ba/EU-Italy.svg; Image of Palazzo Farnese Public Domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Galleria_Farnese_-_Annibale_Carracci_-_Palazzo_Farnese,_Rome.jpg; Image of Bacchus Public Domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Triumph_of_Bacchus_and_Ariadne_-_Annibale_Carracci_-_1597_-_Farnese_Gallery,_Rome.jpg; Image of Jupiter Public Domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jupiter_and_Juno_-_Annibale_Carracci_-_1597_-_Farnese_Gallery,_Rome.jpg; Image of Perseus Public Domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Perseus_and_Andromeda_-_Annibale_Carracci_and_Domenichino_-_1597_-_Farnese_Gallery,_Rome.jpg

 

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Counter-Reformation

    Also called the Catholic Revival or Reformation, it was a response to the Protestant Reformation, and lasted from the Council of Trent to the end of the Thirty Years' War.

  • Illusionistic

    The use of perspective in painting to create the impression of three dimensional space on a two dimensional surface; or a philosophy that promotes the material world as an illusion.

  • Trompe l'oeil

    An artistic technique that creates an optical illusion, usually of a three dimensional space on a flat surface.

  • "As Seen From Below"

    A specific approach used in painting Italian ceiling frescoes that depicts an illusionistic scene taking place above the viewer.