Sadly, even now after the £8.5 million restoration, the Painted Hall fails to inspire anything like the awe that Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel does
The Painted Hall
Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich
Well, there can be no faulting the PR campaign. The ceiling of the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich has just been returned to public view after an £8.5 million restoration lasting two years.
It’s being marketed as a chance to see, with fresh eyes, ‘Britain’s answer to the Sistine Chapel’.
Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the college was completed in the mid-18th century as a place of refuge for elderly and injured members of the Royal Navy, and the Painted Hall served as its dining area.
The eminent artist Sir James Thornhill (who also decorated the dome at St Paul’s cathedral) spent the best part of 20 years painting the hall’s 40,000 square feet interior
The eminent artist Sir James Thornhill (who also decorated the dome at St Paul’s cathedral) spent the best part of 20 years painting the hall’s 40,000 square feet interior.
He finished in 1726. Over the following centuries, however, a combination of dust, unhelpful attempts at cleaning and steam from the ex-sailors’ food had an adverse effect on Thornhill’s work.
Hence the recent restoration, which was intended to leave it as close as possible to its appearance when he got down off his scaffold for the final time.
Sadly, even now, the Painted Hall fails to inspire anything like the awe that Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel in Rome does. It’s all a bit too overblown and baroque for that.
The artist’s choice of subject matter, though, still makes it worth the £12 entry fee. In the central scene, the Dutch-born King William III (aka William of Orange), can be found trampling on a figure that looks distinctly like Louis XIV of France.
It’s a piece of blatant propaganda at a time of considerable tension and rivalry between Europe’s powers. The political parallels with today are so obvious they don’t need spelling out.