Appendix 2: Ceiling paintings at Marlborough House

Pages 89-91

Survey of London Monograph 14, the Queen's House, Greenwich. Originally published by Guild & School of Handicraft, London, 1937.

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Notes on the Ceiling-Paintings of the Salon at Marlborough House

"Horatio Gentileschi was an eminent Italian History Painter, born at Pisa, a City in the Dukedom of Tuscany. After having made himself famous at Florence, Rome, Genoa, and in most parts of Italy, he went for Savoy, whence he remov'd to France, and at last, upon the Invitation of King Charles I came over to England, and was well receiv'd by that King, who appointed him Lodgings in his Court, gave him a considerable Salary, and employ'd him in his Palace at Greenwich, and other publick Places. The most remarkable of his Performances in England, were the Cielings of Greenwich and York House, the latter of which are now in the Collection of the present Duke of Buckingham. He did also a Madonna, a Magdalen, and Lot and his two Daughters for King Charles, all which he perform'd admirably well. After twelve Years continuance in England, he died here at 84 Years of Age, and lies buried in the Queen-Dowager's Chapel at Somerset House."
Roger de Piles, The Art of Painting . . . Done from the French, London, 1706, p. 422.

"Horatio Gentileschi: 1563–1647 . . . Pupil of his half-brother Aurelio Lomi . . . Nine pieces, which were in [Greenwich] palace, were sold after the king's death for £600 and are now the ornaments of the hall at Marlborough House."
Horace Walpole, Anecdotes of Painting, Vol. II, p. 267.

"1629–30, January. An Annuity of £100: graunted to Horatio Gentileschi, Gent, during his life, the first payment thereof to begin from Christmas last."
"1629–30, January. A Warrant for payment of £300 unto Horatio Gentileschi, in satisfacc'on of soe much due at Xmas last, for three yeares allowance of the said Añuity, of wch his Matie is pleased that he shall receive the Benefit from the time of his first coming into this kingdome, wch is certified to have bene in the Yeare 1626."
"1631, June 24. Warrant to pay unto Horatio Gentileschi £200: for pictures by him delivered to his Maties use, unto whome a former privy Seale was graunted for payment of the said somme, the which is since loste. His Maties pleasure signified by the Lord Viscount Dorchester and by him procured."
W. Noel Sainsbury, Original Papers Relating to Rubens, pp. 315–316.

Gentileschi was in Paris for about two years, in the service of the queen-mother, Maria de' Medici, before coming to England in 1626.

He remained in this country for twenty-one years. (fn. 1) It was probably in Paris that he brought himself to the notice of the Duke of Buckingham during the festivities which marked the marriage by proxy of the Princess Henrietta Maria. Sir Balthazar Gerbier, who was in Paris with the Duke, grew jealous of the favours which were heaped upon the Italian painter on his arrival in England, and drew up for the attention of Secretary Lord Dorchester a statement of "The Sommes of Monnys Gentilesco hath recaeved," totalling £3,500, "Besydes all his house furnishet from top to too; wich will amount more then £4,000."

Walpole's statement that nine pieces from Greenwich were removed to Marlborough House led to an examination of the painted ceiling of the salon in 1934. The foundation stone of the house was laid in 1709, but efforts to trace the acquisition of the paintings have been unsuccessful. The ceiling is divided by moulded ribs into nine compartments, (fn. 2) but the design is curiously ill-conceived, although every care has been taken to disguise the awkwardness as far as possible. It appears as if the architect had been faced with a problem of which there could be no satisfactory solution. The salon is oblong in plan, but the arrangement of the panels could only be fitted logically into a square.

The middle panel is a circle, yet the rectangle enclosing it is slightly longer than its width. In each corner of the ceiling is a small square enclosing a circular panel. The four remaining spaces are occupied by oblong panels, which would normally correspond in length with the central panel and in width with the corner panels. But the oblong plan of the room has squeezed the design, so that the squares at the four corners are forced to overlap the oblong panels on two sides (Plate 86).

This design suggested at once that it was an adaptation of that of the hall of the Queen's House (cf. Plate 43), forced on the architect by his client's orders to incorporate existing paintings. A comparison was therefore made of the dimensions of the panels in the two ceilings. The circular panel in the soffit of the lantern light is 1 ft. 6 in. less in diameter than the corresponding panel in the Queen's House. The circular panels in the four corners are of nearly the same diameter in both ceilings. The side panels at Greenwich are of approximately the same length as the longer oblong panels at Marlborough House, while the shorter ones in the Marlborough House ceiling are slightly wider than the side panels at Greenwich.

It has not been possible to examine canvases or stretchers closely, but it has been ascertained that the painted surface is backed with two additional thicknesses of canvas: that the middle panel has been cut so that the spaces between the figures could be reduced, closing up the group to fit a smaller circle: that the longer side panels have been reduced in width, as parts of the design are mutilated, and in the panel against the chimney-breast the repainting of the space between the two figures suggests that a third figure has been painted out: that the shorter side panels have been mutilated by the removal of a piece from the middle of each panel, allowing the remaining figures to be moved nearer together; while the width of each short panel has been increased by the addition of a narrow strip of canvas (Fig. 8).

Fig. 8. A ceiling panel showing cuts.

The four corner panels appear to have been re-stretched with little alteration.

The subjects represented on the panels are the Arts. The paintings have darkened with age and have suffered from repainting; but the composition, the modelling of the figures and the treatment of the drapery are excellent. Much of the original work is visible, but much is hidden by overpainting and by discoloured varnish. Plate 87 shows a suggestion of what the composition may have been before the panels were removed from the Queen's House. It was drawn by Mr. William Hampton from photographs of the panels at Marlborough House.


  • 1. Horace Walpole states that Gentileschi resided here for "about twelve years." His account is copied almost verbatim from de Piles. There seems to be no doubt, however, that Gentileschi remained in England from 1626 until his death in 1647.
  • 2. The original design has been modified by the raising of the large circular panel in the middle to allow of the introduction of a lantern light.