The New International Encyclopædia/Ceiling
CEILING (OF., Fr. ciel, Lat. cælum, sky). The material, of light description, used to make the inner covering of a room or other inclosed space; and, by extension, the surface forming this top covering, whatever may he its material. It is usual to apply the term to flat or nearly flat covering surfaces, and not to call the curved inner surface of a vault or dome a ceiling, although this is not a scientific restriction.
In Egyptian temples the flat stone roofs were used as symbols of heaven and painted blue, with yellow stars, bands of hieroglyphs, emblems and figures of gods, of the planets, the zodiac, and other heavenly scenes, in color. The heavy arched ceilings of Babylon and Assyria were stuccoed and painted, and apparently gilding was used in the sanctuaries. The flat ceilings of Greek art were largely coffered and the woodsurfaces were brilliantly painted, but with ornaments, not figures. Roman ceiling-decoration combined to perfection both types—the flat and the curved surfaces. The pictorial sense of Græco-Roman artists seized on the decorative possibilities of the ceiling. From the great domes, tunnel-vaults, and groin-vaults of the imperial baths and the flat ceilings of the temples and basilicas, down to the minor ceilings of tombs and private houses, all were covered according to one of three systems: (1) the coffered and paneled ceiling, used both on flat and curved surfaces; (2) the stucco reliefs, mainly on curved surfaces; (3) the decoration by simple painting, also on curved surfaces, in what we choose popularly to call the ‘Pompeian’ style. The stuccoed ceilings of the Pompeian baths, of the tombs on the Via Latina, and of the ‘Famesina’ house in Rome, show the exquisite taste and dash of these facile works. The elaborate painted ceilings of the Baths of Titus, discovered in the Sixteenth Century, furnished the models for the arabesques and grotesques which Raphael made so popular in his Vatican Loggie, and which have been ever since in continual use. With the fall of Roman art, ceiling decoration disappeared entirely in the West, to be revived only after six centuries in the Romanesque period. But in the Orient there was no such intermission. On the contrary, Byzantine art with its discovery of marble, glass, and mosaic incrustation as a covering for the surfaces of vaults, added a hitherto unknown element of deep and rich color, which gave a mysterious diflusive effect to the ceilings; and this was helped by its use of curved ceilings wherever possible, even in civil structures. Such are the domes of the Ravenna baptisteries, of Saint Mark's in Venice, and the churches of Salonica and Constantinople. It strikes a note of seriousness in contrast to the playfulness of Roman decoration. One important fact is that Byzantine ceiling decoration is never in relief—always an unbroken surface. This same ideal—of curves and of deep surface-coloring—was developed by Mohammedan art; but in the buildings erected in the Mohammedan style there were few unbroken lines and surfaces. So we have the stalactite corbeling and geometric surface decoration combined with brilliant coloring—more brilliant than that of the Byzantine. When, in the West, mediæval art gave up its severe simplicity of open roofs showing the beams and rafters, and took again to decorative wood in ceilings, as well as to vaulting, the decoration of ceilings took two principal forms. Setting aside mosaics, which were used only—and then seldom—in Italy; paneled and coffered ceilings, which were not revived until the Renaissance; and stuccoed ceilings in relief, which were never revived at all; there remained: (1) painted ceilings; (2) timbered ceilings. In churches the vaulting had frequently a blue ground, as a symbol of the heavenly vault, and its surfaces were as completely covered with subjects of religious art as were the walls. The commonest mediæval vault was the groin vault, and its groins or ribs generally formed the dividing lines in the decoration, as in Saint Francis at Assisi. The more architectural decoration of mediæval ceiling surfaces is described under Vaulting. These ceilings of painted masonry, being exceedingly durable, have been preserved in great numbers; but of the wooden timbered ceilings, usually carved and painted, with picturesque play of light and shade, there are extant but a few early examples—as the Capella Palatina in Palermo and Saint Michael's in Hildesheim (Twelfth Century). They became numerous only in the latest Gothic period, and the Fifteenth and Sixteenth centuries are their Golden age in the north of Europe. Superb examples exist in England from the Elizabethan Age. Meanwhile the Italian Renaissance had evolved an interesting type of flat beveled ceilings for its palace halls, which the frescoists decorated with all the skill of masters in perspective. Their designs of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries were especially charming and were copied in France. Even such famous paintings as Guido's “Aurora” were among them. Correggio and his school were famous ‘illusionists’ in ceiling frescoes.