Just above the centre of this composition, the figure of Apollo sits on a cloud surrounded by glowing light, within a cloud-filled sky. He is surrounded by angels and cherubs, celebrating his elevation to the heavens, some spilling out of the octagonal painted frame around the composition.
This oil sketch for Thornhill's design for the ceiling of the Saloon at Blenheim Palace is also seen in a sketchbook by the artist in the collection of the British Museum. Thornhill had already designed the ceiling of the Great Hall at Blenheim when Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough decided his charges for the project were excessive. She replaced Thornhill with his rival Louis Laguerre, who created a ceiling for the Saloon depicting ‘The Glorification of the Duke of Marlborough’.
James Thornhill, born in Dorset, was apprenticed to Thomas Highmore (1689-97) but also studied and probably assisted Antonio Verrio and Louis Laguerre. He became a Freeman of the Painter-Stainers’ Company in 1704 and began painting scenery in 1705. His surviving decorative schemes include those at Greenwich Hospital (1708-27), Blenheim Palace (1716), Charborough Park (1718) and St. Paul’s Cathedral (1716-19). Queen Anne also employed him to paint an apartment at Hampton Court. He visited the Netherlands and Paris in 1711 and in the same year became a director of Sir Godfrey Kneller’s Academy, taking it over in 1716. In 1720, he became Serjeant Painter and was knighted. He became MP for Weymouth in 1722 and ran an Academy from his home.
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