When we think of a "large" painting, wall-size dimensions of perhaps ten to twenty feet in either direction come to mind. Of course we're usually thinking in terms of framed canvas paintings. And if we think of "LARGE" paintings, then we get to contemplating works too large for canvas--murals--usually frescos. However when we stop measuring the works in FEET and start referring to YARDS, OR METERS, then we're talking... well... maybe ENORMOUS is adequate? And for this scale, the surface is usually a CEILING. It's tempting to thing first, foremost, and maybe even EXCLUSIVELY, of Michelangelo's Sistine ceiling fresco when the subject of ceiling painting comes to mind. But long before Michelangelo ever dripped paint in his eye, there was a long tradition of Italian ceiling painting, and Michelangelo's masterpiece was like an opening shot in what became a race among artists for several generations to paint the most remarkable ceiling frescos ever seen by the eyes of man.

The second round might well be said to belong to a relatively unknown, Pietro da Cortona for the ceiling in the Gran Salone of the Barberini Palazzo in Rome between 1633 and 1639. Entitled Triumph of the Barberini, it is, in fact a last judgement in which the entire ceiling appears to open up to a giant whirl of figures being swept upwrd toward the figure of Christ looming from a cloud slightly off-center of the main axis. But possibly the ultimate in tromp l' oiel fresco ceiling decoration combines stucco sculpture with fresco in a mixed-media extravaganza entitled Trumph of the Name Jesus. Painted by the little-known Giovanni Battista Gaulli from 1676-79 to cover the vault of the Church of ll Gesu in Rome, and in apparent direct competition with the Barberini ceiling, the effect is at once theatrical, yet inspirational. The theme is the same but the work is so much more visually believable, combining architectural elements (both 2-D and 3-D) with sculpture, painted figures, and almost surrealistic heavenly happenings that, miraculously, you no longer notice your stiff neck.