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  • image SM volume 111/55

Reference number

SM volume 111/55


Preliminary design by Sir James Thornhill (with alternatives) for an illusionistic painted ceiling in two compartments


Reflected ceiling plan


12 feet to 7 7/16 inches (modified in pencil annotations to approximately 10 feet to 8 ¾ inches)


By Thornhill in pen and brown ink along right-hand short end of ceiling plan, 12 fott, deleted in pencil and inscribed to right, in pencil, 10 fott; and in pen and brown ink on long axis beneath right-hand compartment, (partly cut off by trimming of sheet), 9 fot 7 in, deleted in pencil; and beneath left-hand compartment (almost entirely cut off), [14] fot [3 inches], deleted in pencil; and in pencil along left-hand edge, 8 fott 6 in; and in pencil in reverse sense on long side at top, above right-hand compartment, 8 fott 6 in; and above left-hand compartment, 10 fott

Signed and dated

  • 1720s-1730s

Medium and dimensions

Pen and brown ink with grey wash over pencil;


Sir James Thornhill


Rampant lion in medallion = IHD (similar to Heawood 3140, although with different countermark)


When first drawn by Thornhill, the design was in the opposite sense to that indicated by the pencil inscriptions, since these represent a revision to the dimensions and proportions of the original ceiling plan. As originally drawn, the smaller compartment was on the right and the larger one on the left. The overall dimensions were 12 feet by 24 feet, that is, the double square of the drawn plan. Thornhill subsequently revised the dimensions, reducing the width to 10 feet and the length to 18 feet 6 inches, implying a proportion of slightly less than a double square.The proposal is for a room with a smaller, nearly square compartment at one end, and a rectangular compartment at the other. The design presents alternatives for the painted decoration of the decoration of both compartments. The small compartment has an octagonal central containing a trumpet-blowing angel and alternatives for the oval shaped corner compartments of the coved ceiling: large, gadrooned vases on the right, and baskets of flowers on the left. The larger compartment has an elongated octagonal central panel decorated with the figure of a naked god on a cloud upturning a large, shell-like cornucopia, with a gesturing cupid figure to his left. The outer panels are drawn in alternatives on the long axis, the upper scheme (in the original sense of the drawing) being a trompe-l'oeil perspective of an attic story with semi-circular lunettes in the side panels containing a vase and basket of fruit (on the short sides) and a winged cupid figure and a small animal (on the long side), and the lower scheme a flatter design with large roundels decorated with flower motifs in the corners and a smaller roundel in the middle of the long side. The cornucopia motif on the larger panel suggests a dining room with an alcove at one end. Alternatively, it could be a design for a large saloon, with an alcove for music at one end.



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