What's the best-looking ceiling you've ever seen in the world? For my money it's the one in NYC's Grand Central Station--and yes, I've been to Rome.
UK-based Catherine McCormack would undoubtedly debate me and my provincial tastes. The art historian and curator, who also teaches at Sotheby's Institute of Art, has been working on a photo book documenting the world's 40 finest ceilings (Grand Central didn't make the cut).
McCormack's "The Art of Looking Up" divides the works into four categories: Religion, Culture, Power and Politics. Here are a few samples from the book:
Imam Mosque, Iran. Almost half a million colored ceramic tiles cover the Imam Mosque.
Debre Berhan Selassie Church, Ethiopia. The central image of the crucifixion, above which is an image of three bearded men symbolizing the Holy Trinity.
Sagrada Família, Spain. Light floods in through the stained glass windows to illuminate the Sagrada Família's intricate structure.
Palais Garnier, France. Marc Chagall's rich colors, made up of five symbolic "petals."
Dalí Theatre-Museum, Catalonia. The viewer is right at the heart of Dalí's Palace of the Wind ceiling, looking up at gigantic feet and into the opened vault in the center.
Royal Palace of Brussels, Belgium. Jan Fabre's Heaven of Delight, occupying the ceiling of La Salle des Glaces in the Royal Palace of Brussels, is made up of jeweled scarab beetles. The wing cases extend down from their entrapment on the ceiling to encrust a grand chandelier.
United Nations Office, Switzerland. The ceiling represents the geography of the Earth's nations in 35 tons of paint, comprising pigments gleaned from rocks from around the globe.
Sadly, one of the ceilings McCormack wanted to include, as it holds special significance, did not make it into the book "due to an issue with images," she writes. "This was especially sad for me as it was the only work in the book that had been potentially by female artist, so this [blog entry] is the ideal space for a preview. Even more so amid the current re-engagement with the art of Artemisia Gentileschi who potentially painted a large proportion of this ceiling for the Queen's House in Greenwich, which is now installed in Marlborough House, London."
Orazio and Artemisia ( ?) Gentileschi, Allegory of Peace, Marlborough House, London, UK
We suggest you read McCormack's description of the theory that Orazio Gentileschi's daughter Artemisia Gentileschi may have been behind a number of his paintings. "She is better known as the most famous rape victim of art history and proto-feminist artist in an overwhelmingly patriarchal system of art production that only allowed a woman to pick up the tools of her painterly trade because she grew up in a studio of artists with her father and brothers."