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The Marlborough House ceiling by Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi

Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639) & Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652)

Apollo, the Personification of Music c. 1635-8

RCIN 408465

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This is one of the corner roundels depicting the personifications of the Arts, part of the ceiling decoration of An Allegory of Peace and the Arts. Painted by Orazio Gentileschi, for Queen Henrietta Maria, c.1636-8, the ceiling decorated the Great Hall at the Queen's House Greenwich until about 1711, when Queen Anne granted it to her favourite, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, and it was transferred to her new residence Marlborough House on Pall Mall, now the Commonwealth Secretariat.

The ceiling celebrates the benign rule of Charles I when peace and the liberal arts could flourish. The four roundels of the Arts at each corner together with the four panels of the Nine Muses frame the central tondo (RCIN 408464).

Here, Music is represented by the god Apollo, seated in white and green, crowned with laurel wreath and holding a viola da braccio. Apollo was the patron of poetry and music and the leader of the nine Muses.

It is now thought that Artemisia, Orazio’s daughter, may have assisted her father with his last commission. She probably arrived in London early in 1638, and if the ceiling was installed at the end of that year, she could have had time to paint some of Muses and personifications of the Arts in the outer canvases. These figures often have the dramatic chiaroscuro and more powerful physiques of Artemisia’s work compared to the refined and artificial style of her father.