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Paper: Stars on the Ceiling
Volume: 501, Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena VIII
Page: 31
Authors: Krupp, E. C.
Abstract: Astronomy and celestial imagery have been incorporated into architectural ceilings from antiquity to the present to reference the sky on behalf of a variety of agendas. Burial chambers in Egyptian pyramids and tombs, the Osiris chapel on the roof of Ptolemaic Egypt's Temple of Dendera, ancient Chinese tombs, painted rock shelters in California and the American Southwest, the cupola above a hot bath from medieval Jordan, elaborately illustrated ceilings in Italian cathedrals and palaces, the main concourse in New York's Grand Central Terminal, and a variety of other public buildings in America all brought the sky inside to convey relationships between the architecture, people, and the cosmos. In these interior environments, the symbolic function of the astronomical ceiling is driven by the thematic function of the building. At Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles three signature spaces are equipped with astronomically illustrated ceilings. In content and location, these prominent murals operate symbolically to convey meaning through public display and unexpectedly prompt people to think more expansively about the universe. This artwork is familiar in Los Angeles, but its use in a public observatory puts it outside the range of most commentaries on public art. Although experienced by more than seventy-six million persons over the last eighty years, Griffith Observatory's celestial murals are not well known. Their history, content, character, meaning, and purpose are detailed here.
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