The Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich will reopen on 23 March 2019 after a two year National Lottery Funded conservation project which has brought its magnificent painted interior vividly back to life. It was one of the largest open access conservation projects in Europe. The Painted Hall is the centrepiece of the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren as a ceremonial dining room for what was then the new Royal Hospital for Seaman, the Painted Hall was completed in 1705. The paintings celebrate England’s naval power and mercantile prosperity, as well as its newly installed protestant monarchy. Successive monarchs William III and Mary II, Anne and George I join a cast of hundreds of figures, mythological, allegorical, historical and contemporary.
The Painted Hall has been referred to as the ‘Sistine Chapel of the UK’ – its vast decorated interior, extending to 4,000 square metres, is the masterpiece of English baroque art. Its reopening is part of a major transformation project by Hugh Broughton Architects – with conservation advice from the College’s Surveyor of the Fabric, Martin Ashley Architects – that will also see the reopening of the King William Undercroft.
‘This project has been an epic undertaking and represents a huge collaborative effort. The sheer scale and complexity of the project meant that we were constantly seeking innovative solutions – from the carefully developed conservation techniques to the design of the vast internal scaffolding, which had to be fully accessible for the visiting public. The transformation of the Undercroft space below has brought one of Britain’s great historic spaces back into use, providing a beautiful prelude to the wonder of the Painted Hall above.’ William Palin, Painted Hall Project Director and Conservation Director at the Old Royal Naval College said.
A series of finely carved oak benches, made when the Hall served as an art gallery in the 19th century and removed 100 years ago, will return as part of a new collection of elegant furniture which will allow visitors to sit (or lie down) in comfort and experience the beauty and wonder of Thornhill’s masterpiece. To enrich the experience, visitors will have the choice of a multimedia guide, a printed guide or a tour by one of an expert team of guides. Two ‘treasure chests’ containing handling objects related to the ceiling will add a new tactile element to the visitor experience.