Eyes up! The Art of Looking Up by Catherine McCormack

Do you look up when you are  inside?  This book has made me think more about viewing the ceilings wherever I go.  There is so much to see there; sometimes the sights are beautiful, sometimes they may be symbolic or there to make a point.

This excellent volume begins by making the case for why one looks up.  There are connections to the celestial and definitely to religion in many instances.  The reader learns that ceilings make statements whether they are religious, political or a reflection of power or culture.  Each of these areas has its own section in this lavishly photographed and informative title.  Just a few of the sites that are included are The Vatican Palace, the Imam Mosque, the Louvre, the subway stations of Stockholm, Blenheim Palace and the U.S. Capitol.

I learned a lot while reading this book.  I enjoyed traveling to many parts of the world and learning more about different cultures based on what they hope to inspire in those who visit their sites.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this title in exchange for an honest review.

From the publisher:

Forty spectacular ceilings around the globe that have been graced by the brushes of artists including Michelangelo, Marc Chagall and Cy Twombly

The spectacular ceiling inside Barcelona’s Sagrada Família.

Bellagio Hotel and Casino, USA

Palazzo Barberini, Italy

Museum of the Revolution, Cuba


Regardless of race, geography or creed, all gods occupy the sky. The close of the Neolithic period (before 3000 BCE) saw the transformation of religious beliefs as they shifted from a focus on the power, fertility and spirituality of the earth to the introduction of the sky-god cults. These include the Abrahamic religions and, before those, the gods of ancient Egyptian and then ancient Greek and Roman pagan theology, who occupied Mount Olympus in the sky. In short, from the Indo-European period, we started to look up to see God.

The spectacular ceiling inside Barcelona’s Sagrada Família.


A well-placed ceiling can achieve many things, from entertaining the wandering minds of a distracted audience at the Paris Opera House to flattering the patrons in Vienna’s Burgtheater, or from enlivening the monotony of the daily commute across Stockholm’s city metro network to nourishing intellectual contemplation within the library at Strahov Monastery. It can, perhaps, even keep clients in the casino, mechanically parting with their cash, as Dale Chihuly’s Fiori di Como in the Bellagio Resort and Casino would seem to aspire to, with its upside-down seabed of glass flowers.

Bellagio Hotel and Casino, USA


The easiest way to overwhelm is from above, as this is the vantage point from which all authority tends to descend. And so it follows that, in spaces of power, such as at the palaces of royalty, autocracy and rulership, the ceiling becomes an exercise in communicating that domination. This is achieved through the incorporation of various messages signalling such things as immense wealth and immortality. Portrayed with sentiments ranging from intimidation to whimsy, they are realized in ways that range from painterly ingenuity in composition to the use of beetles and bees.

Palazzo Barberini, Italy


Behind the closed doors of political establishments, painted ceilings often represent an idealized projection of the affairs of state playing out in the rooms below. A ceiling is the perfect canvas on which to craft a self-styled civic and national identity, working in a certain sense as an extension of the body politic. This form of connection between council and ceiling was important for the independent city-states featured in the following pages, such as the Golden Hall in the Augsburg Town Hall, Germany and the Hall of the Great Council of the Palazzo Ducale, in the most serene republic of Venice, Italy.

Museum of the Revolution, Cuba

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