This domed ceiling was originally located in a ground floor room of the Casa Maffi in Cremona, Italy. It was painted in about 1500 by a local artist, Alessandro Pampurino, and is decorated with frescos depicting an old man, a boy and a woman listening to the Muses. Eight smaller lunettes are painted in imitation of bas-relief with heads of Roman emperors and their wives, probably based on ancient coins. Many of the figures, particularly the Muses, bear a marked resemblance to those on contemporary tarot cards.
The Muses were classical goddesses who embodied various branches of the arts and inspired artists: Terpsichore (choral dance and song), Erato (love poetry), Thalia (comedy), Melpomene (tragedy), Euterpe (lyric poetry), Clio (history), Polymnia (sacred poetry), Urania (astronomy) and Calliope (epic poetry). During the medieval and Renaissance periods the Muses came to represent science and learning, and it was thought that by playing their musical instruments they were transmitting the light of divine inspiration from the celestial spheres to the earthly world. The Muses came to represent the celestial spheres, with Apollo as their leader. This is the reason why the ceiling is octagonal: it corresponds to the eight spheres.
It is not known what the room was used for, although the decorative scheme on the ceiling suggests that it might have been a place where people could meet and converse about the arts and perhaps admire antique works of art.
You can listen to a description of the ceiling using the audio bar below. If you then click on the main image you can view a large version of the ceiling while listening to the description.
Video: Conservation and installation of the Cremona ceiling
The V&A's Sculpture Conservation Team and Museum Technical Services describe how the Cremona ceiling was conserved and prepared for installation in the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries.