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
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
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
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
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