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Museum of Oxford Digital Exhibitions

Celebration and exclusion

Photo credit: By Permission of the Sheldonian Theatre and IFACS (INTERNATIONAL FINE ART CONSERVATION STUDIOS)

Almost the first building ever designed by Christopher Wren (1632-1723), the Sheldonian Theatre is the principal ceremonial hall of the University. It was paid for by Archbishop Gilbert Sheldon (1598-1677), who presided over the Church of England and served as Chancellor of Oxford in the years after the Restoration. The ceiling is the work of Robert Streater, court painter to Charles II, and depicts ‘Truth Descending upon the Arts and Sciences to expel ignorance from the University’. This was more than a straightforward celebration of the power of learning, however. It symbolized the way in which those outside the Church of England – Dissenters and free-thinkers – were excluded from Oxford.