Described as ‘the Sistine Chapel of the UK’, the Painted Hall of the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, London, is undergoing major transformation over the next two years, including the conservation of the amazing Sir James Thornhill’s painted ceiling.
But you won’t have to wait all that time to get an up-close look at this fabulous work of art. As part of this landmark project, visitors are being given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see progress on the conservation close up through a series of ceiling tours which will be launched on 1 April 2017: a lift will enable people of all ages and abilities, to reach the top-level platform and see the conservators at work.
The Painted Hall is the greatest piece of decorative painting in England created by Sir James Thornhill between 1708 and 1727, and framed by trompe l’oeil architecture. The paintings celebrate the royal founders of the Hospital, William III and Mary II, together with successive monarchs, Anne and George I and make the hall is the jewel of the Old Royal Naval College, which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and opened in 1694, as the Royal Hospital for Seamen by King William III and Queen Mary II.
The Painted Hall catapulted Thornhill to fame and he subsequently won important commissions, including the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, the chapel ceiling of Queen’s College Oxford and the hall of Blenheim Palace. He was appointed history painter-in-ordinary to the king in 1718, sergeant-painter to the king in 1720, and knighted in the same year.
Conservation director William Palin said: “The Painted Hall is one of Britain’s greatest architectural and artistic treasures, but it is too little known. This project aims to raise it to the national and international prominence it deserves, providing a transformed and enriched visitor experience and helping us to engage with new audiences.”
Over the next two years, conservators will work on 3,400 square meters of painted surface, bringing new life and vibrancy to paintings obscured by decades of decay. A new visitor route and a range of sophisticated environmental controls are designed to ensure no further intervention will be necessary for 100 years.
Tickets for the ceiling tours go on sale next month, income from which will go to the restoration fund.