It has been described as ‘the Sistine Chapel of the UK’, and now is your chance to get a close-up inspection of a little-known British masterpiece. The Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College Greenwich is the subject of major restoration and regeneration works, including the creation of a new visitor centre, Sackler Gallery and café. While restoration work to the Hall’s incredible ceiling is going on you have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get almost as close to the work as the artist who painted it.
Founded in 1694, the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, with the walls and ceilings painted by Sir James Thornhill between 1707 and 1726. The baroque scheme contains scenes depicting the might of the British navy in the early 18th century, illuminated by over 200 scenes featuring historical and mythological figures. The work was a sensation, turning Thornhill into an art superstar, leading to his commission to paint the dome of Sir Christopher Wren’s newly-completed St Paul’s Cathedral, and eventually the accolade of being the first British painter honoured with a knighthood.
For the duration of the restoration work, which will clean the paintings as well as performing environmental interventions to preserve the art in its present state for at least the next century too, visitors will have a chance to view the paintings from a 60-foot high observation deck. From here you can watch the conservators at work and learn more about the building from experienced guides.
Daily tours of the Painted Hall ceiling run from 10am – 5pm at the Old Royal Naval College Greenwich. Get more information and book a tour here.