Visitors will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get up close to the ceiling of the Greenwich’s Painted Hall through a series of ceiling tours from 1 April 2017.
The Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College Greenwich, described as ‘the Sistine Chapel of the UK’, is undergoing a major transformation over the next two years, including the creation of a new visitor centre, Sackler Gallery and café developed by Hugh Broughton Architects. The ceiling tours will be accessible to all.
The Painted Hall is the lavish centerpiece of the Old Royal Naval College, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and founded in 1694. Considered to be the greatest Baroque decorative scheme in England, the walls and ceilings were painted by Sir James Thornhill between 1707 and 1726 with a series of triumphant scenes framed by trompe l’oeil architecture. The spectacular paintings are an exuberant display of British maritime power at the beginning of the eighteenth century, a story told with the help of more than 200 historical, allegorical and mythological figures. It celebrates the royal founders of the Hospital, William III and Mary II, together with successive monarchs, Anne and George I.
Over the next two years, conservators will work on 40,000 square feet of the ceiling’s painted surface, bringing new life and vibrancy to paintings obscured by decades of decay. Environmental controls will ensure no further intervention on the paintings will be necessary for 100 years. A 60 foot-high observation desk has been constructed, and though ceiling tours on the deck the public will be able to see conservators at work and get closer to Thornhill’s work that ever before.
The Painted Hall commission catapulted Thornhill to fame and he subsequently won other important decorative commissions, including the dome of Sir Christopher Wren’s newly-completed St Paul’s Cathedral, the chapel ceiling of Queen’s College Oxford and the hall at Blenheim Palace. He was appointed history painter-in-ordinary to the George I in 1718 and sergeant-painter in 1720, the year which also saw him become the first British artist to receive a knighthood.
William Palin, Conservation Director said:
“We are delighted to offer visitors the chance to see Sir James Thornhill’s masterpiece close-up through ceiling tours. The Painted Hall is one of Britain’s greatest architectural and artistic treasures, and this project aims to raise it to the national and international prominence it deserves. This is a wonderful chance for people to see world-class conservators at work and watch the transformation take place over the next two years.”
Alongside the conservation work, a programme of public engagement will celebrate every element of the Painted Hall and its history, promoting skills, dialogue, and independent discovery in the exploration of the universal stories and timeless themes of Sir James Thornhill’s paintings.
A major gift of £1m from The Gosling Foundation was announced in January 2017. Other grants, including £3.1m awarded from the Heritage Lottery Fund in March 2016 and support from some of the UK’s leading philanthropists, have enabled the £8.5m conservation project to begin. A further £2m is necessary to complete the project, and all donations will go towards the restoration fund and the conservation.
The Old Royal Naval College recently ran a crowdfunding campaign through Art Happens, hosted by Art Fund, raising over £22,000 to conserve the proscenium arch in the Painted Hall. The arch will be returned to its original shimmer splendor through repairing and re-gilding the original decorations, perfectly framing The Golden Age Returned.
Don’t miss – Ceiling tours of the Painted Hall
Daily from Saturday 1 April 2017, 10am – 5pm (last admission 4pm)
Adult ticket £10 / Child ticket (aged 6 – 17) £5
Full disabled access