7 november 2008

Sheldonian Theatre ceiling completed

The restored ceiling of the Sheldonian Theatre © Greg Smolonski
The ceiling fresco shows Truth descending upon the Arts and Sciences to expel ignorance from the University.

After four long years with hessian sacking covering the ceiling, the University of Oxford’s Sheldonian ceiling fresco has now been restored. The ceiling is being unveiled at a reception today (Friday 7 November) and will be first seen by the public at a degree ceremony tomorrow.

The panels were taken down for conservation and work was completed earlier this year. Since then a team from Beard construction and IFACS conservators have been working together to put the 32 panels back into place.

Oxford University’s Chairman of the Curators, Jeffrey Hackney, said: ‘I have been very impressed with the good nature and efficiency of the team who have worked together all summer under some fairly intense pressure to get the ceiling open in time for the degree day on the 8th of November. 

‘This may not rank with the restoration of Raphael's Madonna of the Goldfinch which has just been completed, but I think there will be much drawing in of breath when people see the restored ceiling for the first time. When the new concealed lighting is installed in 2010 the Michelin Guide will have to make the Theatre a 'vaut le voyage' item.’

I think there will be much drawing in of breath when people see the restored ceiling for the first time.

Jeffrey Hackney, Chairman of the Curators

The ceiling panels, in oil on canvas, were painted by King Charles the Second’s court painter, Robert Streater (1624 to 1679). The London-born painter specialised in large-scale architectural and decorative paintings and his work was particularly noted for its illusionistic quality. The allegorical programme in the painting shows Truth descending upon the Arts and Sciences to expel ignorance from the University.

They have now been carefully conserved, including having linings replaced, holes in the canvas fixed and over-painting removed.

The Sheldonian Theatre is a Grade 1 listed building and the principal assembly room of the University, and the regular meeting-place of Congregation – the 4,000-strong ‘Parliament of Dons’, which controls the University’s affairs.