Painted Hall ORNC

The Old Royal Naval College’s involvement of the public in the conservation of the Painted Hall is to be applauded. A friend and I went along to the scaffold viewing recently. It is a free tour and you are taken in small groups of up to 8 people to the top of the Painted Hall some10 metres up.

Painted Hall ORNC

The tour is on a first come basis so we registered about an hour before the 3.30pm tour and were lucky to get the last two places. As instructed we went to meet our guide in the Painted Hall at the allotted time. As we waited we looked around and couldn’t see any scaffolding or anything that looked like conservationists at work. We felt slightly disappointed. However, when our guides appeared they took us behind a painted facade of the West Wall and there was the scaffolding. To be honest we hadn’t even noticed that the West Wall painting was a reproduction screen. We put on our high vis jackets safety helmets and then began climbing the scaffolding.

Painted Hall ORNC

Seeing the details close up we really could understand why it had taken James Thornhill 19 years to complete the decoration of the Painted Hall. Thornhill was awarded the commission in 1707. The wall and ceiling decoration celebrates King George l (1660-1727) and the House of Hanover, his son the future George ll stands by his side and there is a self portrait of the artist bottom right. From the viewing platform at the top of the scaffolding you can see the details on the ceiling. In each corner there are the symbols for England, Scotland, Wales and France, one of the guides explained that we still owned part of France then.

Conservation Painted Hall ORNC

Being so close you can really see the skills that were involved in the execution of this massive painting. We were told that specialist painters were brought in to do specific things. For example,Antoine Monnoyer (1672 – 1747) did the exquisite flowers. A specialist court painter would have also done the portraits of George lst and the other royals. Only court painters could do portraits of royalty. George must have been pleased with the work of Thornhill because he did make him a court painter in 1718. The most fascinating thing we saw was a gravy stain, a very large one at that, found at the top of the West Wall. This probably dates back to the days when it was used as a mess hall for navy officers. How it had been hurled to such a height was astonishing. The Painted Hall was last cleaned 55 years ago.

Conservation Painted Hall ORNC

The tour does give a unique perspective of the conservators’ work and it’s really interesting to go on a behind the scenes tour. The conservation is due to end in May so if you would like to do this tour get a move on.

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