Those of you that follow my London Shoes blogs will be aware that I try to steer clear of the more ‘touristy’ landmarks/ & locations of this wonderful City – but last week was an exception, as it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to (literally) get right up close to, and experience something happening at the location in question, that probably won’t be repeated again in my lifetime, and quite possibly many years after that.
The timing of my visit to this place was critical, as from the 30th Sept onwards – it would not have been possible.
So – last week’s trek out was down to the Thames at Greenwich – to specifically pay a visit to the magnificent historic “Painted Hall”.
The ‘Painted Hall’ is part of the Old Royal Naval College, which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and opened in 1694, as a dining hall for retired sailors of Britain’s Royal Navy’.
The ‘Painted Hall’ is quite simply London’s equivalent of Michelangelo’s “Sistine Chapel”.
It displays the largest ‘ceiling painting’ in northern Europe – and is one of Britain’s greatest artistic treasures.
The Painted Ceiling, and the wall paintings, were designed and produced by the British artist Sir James Thornhill – who was a close associate of the famous architect Sir Christopher Wren.
Thornhill started his ‘paint-job’ in 1707, and finished it in 1726.
The theme of the painted 40,000 sq ft ceiling is a sort of ‘political’ statement of the time, that was designed to depict the might of Britain’s strength and imperialism throughout the world, and to also to show-off its maritime and trading successes – at a time when Britannia really did ‘rule-the-waves’.
James Thornhill was paid £1 per sq ft for the wall paintings and £3 per sq ft for the ceiling – and for this work Thornhill received a knighthood – making him the very first artist to be made a ‘Sir’.
In fact, in the very corner of the main ‘wall’ painting at one end of the Hall – Sir James Thornhill has painted himself doing a bit of a cameo appearance – striking a pose, where he appears to be holding out his hand for his ‘payment’ for the job!!!
The Painted Hall was also the place where Admiral Lord Nelson lay in state for 3 days following his death in 1806 – before being buried further down the River Thames at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
From 1824, and for the following century – the Painted Hall was home to the First National Gallery of Naval Art – where hundreds of paintings by world renowned from all over the world, would be placed on display throughout the hall floor area.
Later on, the Painted Hall was used as an official dining room for trainee Royal Navy officers – and these days it is also used as a venue for many high level functions and weddings etc.
Obviously, over the centuries since it was built, the quality of the paintings on the ceiling of the Painted Hall, naturally deteriorated as the years passed by.
2016 saw the commencement of a major 3 year project to restore and conserve the paintings on the ceiling of the Hall, so that Sir James Thornhill’s work could be returned to its former glory.
This huge and pains taking extensive project required scaffolding to be erected and walkways to be built, to enable the skilled ‘conservers’ to be able to work 60 ft up in the air.
Special gantries and flooring were also erected to allow paying ‘punters’ to reach touching distance of the ceiling – for a chance-of-a-lifetime opportunity to get a close-up view of the artwork and watch the ‘conservers’ at work.
This programme of one-off guided tours of the Ceiling ran until 30th Sept 2018 – and I was fortunate enough to get myself on the visitors list for this ‘tour’, just a couple of days before it closed down – and I am very pleased that I did, as it’s not the sort of thing you get the chance to see – and who knows when such an opportunity is likely to raise itself again.
Hope you enjoy the ‘photo’ tour 🙂