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Who Needs History Books When You Already Have a Ceiling?

Aug 17, 2007
Most people usually disregard a ceiling only as a part of their houses that is just there to put a roof over their heads. What most people usually disregard is the fact that a ceiling can do more than just that.

It is evident in history that ceilings did not just serve as horizontal slabs to cover rooms or internal spaces. Ceilings can tell a story about a particular period in time, convey history and reveal the inventiveness and creativity of man. In fact, one of the best known works of art can be found on a ceiling.

The frescos found at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the Palace of the Vatican are probably, if not one, the most famous ceilings in history. Created by Michelangelo, this well-known ceiling took over four years to complete.

It depicted key events and figures in the history of Christianity like The Creation, Adam and Eve, The Garden of Eden and The Great Flood. What supposed to be a ceiling with frescos only of the twelve apostles turned out to have over three hundred figures of prophets and saints painted on it.

The Sistine Chapel's ceiling did not just received accolades. This well-celebrated ceiling also had its share of controversies.

The fresco of The Last Judgment found at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel spurred dispute between Michelangelo and Cardinal Carafa. Cardinal Carafa, the overseeing cardinal of the Sistine Chapel at the time the frescos were painted on the ceiling, found Michelangelo's depiction of the characters of The Last Judgment offensive.

The characters of the Last Judgment, as painted on the ceilings, were presented in the nude. Figure heads of the Catholic Church deemed it inappropriate to be painted on a ceiling of a place of worship.

Due to these differences of opinion, the nude images painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel were censored by the Church. A censorship movement known as the "Fig-Leaf Campaign" led the Church officials to commission the artist Daniele da Voltera to paint over the genitalia of the characters on the ceiling with fig leaves.

Even before Michelangelo painted the famous ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians had already been decorating their ceilings. Their chapels' ceilings were painted blue with yellow stars, hieroglyphics and emblems of the sky to depict the night sky.

The Greeks, on the other hand, used deep panels for their ceilings which were often decoratively painted.

Ceilings were not just created as flat slabs back in olden days. Romans used different materials such as brick, concrete and different types of stone. The Roman's ingenuity when it comes to decorating ceilings is fairly evident with the high-rise Pantheon of Rome.

In the Middle Ages, a building's ceiling can tell not just the social significance but as well as the religious importance of the structure. In those days, one may identify a church or a secular building by just looking at its ceiling.

Churches and buildings of importance to the society had pitched roofs that are left open to show the structural timbers of the ceiling.

Amidst the differences in beliefs, key architectural features found in ceilings of places worship areas can be used to tie up similarities in different religions.

One of these important features of ceilings that can be found in different religions is the dome. This feature can often be found in both Mosques and Christian churches.

It is just the paintings and decorations on the ceilings and walls that one can put a distinction between these two religious structures.

Most Christian churches have biblical events painted on its ceilings while mosques can be seen with Qur'anic inscriptions taken from the Qur'an or the Holy book of Islam and carved stalactite (honeycomb like) ornaments.

All through out history, one can observe that a ceiling do not just serve the purpose of providing shelter. Taking our cue from the Sistine Chapel's ceiling alone, who would say that ceilings are dull?
About the Author
James Monahan is the owner and Senior Editor of
CeilingWeb.com and writes expert
articles about ceilings.
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