CEILING, the interior overhead surface of a room. Strictly speaking, a ceiling is the decorative cover-ing that partially or wholly hides the structural elements of a roof or the floor of an upper story.
A ceiling is usually a flat surface made of some light material, such as wooden planks or panels or plaster, which may be carved and painted. Loosely speaking, the term “ceiling” may be extended to mean the underside of a flat roof or of the floor above even when the structural elements are uncovered.
Ancient and Medieval. The timber roofs of an-cient Greek temples were sometimes open and sometimes hidden by coffered ceilings; that is, they were covered by a flat surface made of decorative, deep-set, geometric panels. The same kinds of roof and ceiling continued into the Roman period, with the addition of barrel vaults, groined vaults, and domes. In simpler buildings the roof beams might be covered with planks and plaster, which were sometimes adorned with paintings and re-liefs.
Medieval buildings had open timber roofs; vaults; flat ceilings of planks, plaster, or shallow wooden panels; or beamed ceilings in which the structural beams stood out from the covering material.
Renaissance and After. During the Renaissance, ceilings began largely to replace open timber roofs and vaulting; in majör buildings they were often extremely sumptuous. The beamed ceilings of Italian palaces were coffered, with large panels, which were generally rectangular but often in-cluded a round or oval panel in the center. The panel moldings were ornately carved and gilded, and the surfaces often bore pictures, such as those by Paolo Veronese in the Sala del Collegio of the Ducal Palace in Venice. The somberly rich beamed ceiling of the gallery of Francis I at Fontainebleau has smaller coffers of dark, un-gilded wood.
The flat, white, plaster ceilings of Knole Park, Kent, are typical of the Elizabethan and Jacobean style. Their broad, shallow moldings define geometric or floral shapes that have no relation to the hidden roof beams but sometimes intersect to create an effect reminiscent of the patterns of medieval rib vaulting.
In the French rococo style of the early 18th century, the ceiling curved down into the walls instead of joining them at a right angle. In the Hotel de Soubise, Paris, this transition is effected by painted panels of complex shapes framed in delicate, feminine C-scrolls.
During the late 18th century, European ceilings were influenced by a new interest in classical archaeology, as exemplified by English ceilings in the Adam style. Such ceilings as those at Syon House, London, or Mellerstain, Scotland, have an exquisite linear delicacy in their combination of small painted panels with refined white moldings of ums, garlands and festoons of small bell-shaped corn husks, and radiating sunbursts against a tinted background.
During the 19th century, ceilings commonly repeated older styles. With the rise of function-alism in the early 20th century, they were stripped of most decoration. Technological ad-vances, however, have found new functions for the ceiling—it may incorporate an indirect lighting system, acoustical features, or a ventilation system. Synthetic tiles and other new materials broadened design possibilities. Most 20th century ceilings are as simple in design as their function permits, relying on the natural textures and colors of materials to provide visual interest.