Famous Ceilings: National Gallery of Victoria

Written by Milan Jara

The National Gallery of Victoria, a huge art museum in southern Australia, is home to one of the most breathtaking ceilings in the world. That's because it is one of the world's largest stained glass ceilings. Comprised of thousands of small bits of stained glass organized together like one giant jigsaw puzzle, the piece has stood proudly above a plain hall in the NGV since the late 1960s. Visitors to this room have been know to simply lie on the floor and stare up at every speck of color. The hall is also a famous venue for weddings and galas.

Leonard French: An Australian Master of Light

This massive structure was designed by the Australian artist Leonard French, who also completed smaller, similar works at the National Library of Australia. Unlike those works, the ceiling at the NGV had to juggle function along with design. "It was a lot of bloody hard work," said French in an interview around 30 years later about the project. He might have meant that this was literally bloody, hard work. At the time he had accepted these commissions, he had been a relative novice at glass work, often cutting himself and wiping the blood on his leather apron, looking like a butcher to onlookers. Since then, he's completed other commissions across the country, and he continues to paint today.

A Massive Feat of Design

Each section of glass is 2.5 centimeters (about 1 inch) thick, and each piece had been imported from either Belgium or France. The stained glass was created in 224 triangular pieces, which fit together neatly in the great rectangular form of the room. The approximately 200-by-50-foot room is largely plain and gray underneath it so that guests can see the colors and patterns the ceiling makes on the floor, often called "a Persian carpet of light." This huge ceiling hangs about 45 feet in the air. With each triangle weighing in at about a third of a ton, it was quite a masterful piece of engineering to ensure that it all stayed aloft with the assistance of only a few slim steel columns. It took Leonard French and his team about five years to complete the project. Today, this marvelous work is still on display for your viewing pleasure at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.


- Milan Jara

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