CEILING (from a verb "to ceil," i.e. to line or cover; of disputed etymology, but apparently connected with Fr. ciel, Lat. caelum, sky), in architecture, the upper covering of a church, hall or room. Ceilings are now usually formed of plaster, but in former times they were commonly either boarded (of which St Albans cathedral is perhaps the earliest example), or showed the beams and joists, which in England were moulded and carved, and in France and Italy were richly painted and gilded. Sometimes the ceilings were horizontal, sometimes canted on two sides, and sometimes they take the form of a barrel-vault. Ribs are sometimes planted on the boarding to divide up the surface, and their intersections are enriched with bosses. About the middle of the 16th century the ceilings were formed in plaster with projecting ribs, interlaced ornament and pendants, and the characteristics of the Elizabethan style. At Bramall Hall, Broughton Castle, Hatfield, Knowle, Sizergh and Levens in Westmorland, and Dorfold in Cheshire, are numerous examples, some with pendants. In Italy, at the same period, the plaster ceilings were based on the forms taken by vaulting; they were of infinite variety and were richly decorated with sunk panels containing the Roman conventional foliage. Raphael, about 1520, reproduced in the Vatican some of the stucco-duro ornament which he had studied in the Golden House of Nero, excavated under his directions. Later, about the middle of the 16th century, great coves were formed round the room, which were decorated with cartouches and figures in relief, garlands and swags. The great halls of the Ducal Palace at Venice and the galleries of the Pitti Palace at Florence were ceiled in this way. These coved ceilings were introduced into England in the middle of the 17th century. In Holyrood Palace at Edinburgh there is a fine ceiling of 1671, with figures (probably executed by Italian craftsmen) and floral wreaths.
At Coleshill, Berkshire, a ceiling by Inigo Jones (1650) shows a type which became more or less universal for a century, viz. deeply sunk panels with modillions round, and bands enriched with foliage, fruit, etc., in bold relief. Wren, Nicholas Hawksmoor, James Gibbs, John Webb and other architects continued on the same lines, and in 1760 Robert Adam introduced his type of ceiling, sometimes horizontal, and sometimes segmental, in which panels are suggested only, with slight projecting lines and rings of leaves, swags and arabesque work, which, like Raphael's, was found on the ceilings of the Roman tombs and baths in Rome and Pompeii. George Richardson followed with similar work, and Sir W. Chambers, in the rooms originally occupied by the Royal Academy and the learned societies in Somerset House, designed many admirable ceilings. The moulds of all the ornamental devices of Robert Adam are preserved and are still utilized for many modern ceilings.
(R. P. S.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)