Greenwich and London from One Tree Hill

A painting proclaiming the prosperity and stability achieved through the restoration of the Stuart monarchy under Charles II, 1660-85. The view dates to about 1680 and is taken from One Tree Hill, north-east of Observatory or Castle Hill in Greenwich Park. On the left is the Royal Observatory, built in 1675-76, and there are deer in the foreground on the right - a feature of the Park since the reign of Henry VIII. The giant steps built up the face of Observatory Hill in Charles II's 1660s remodelling of the Park are also clearly visible. In the centre is the Queen's House, showing the East Bridge Room added in 1662, with its original central balcony over the walled roadway from Woolwich to London. From the base of Observatory Hill an avenue of trees leads down towards the walled road, with a parallel (western) avenue in the distance. Between the two the Park's lower parterre is crossed by the diagonal course of the former Roman road towards London, seen just left of the Queen's House. To the right of the House stand the brick ruins of the Tudor Palace of Greenwich, specifically Henry VIII's tournament yard towers, still in course of demolition, while on the extreme right by the river can be seen the west end of the former Palace chapel, only demolished in the 1690s. These are the principal visible remnants here of the Tudor palace, largely cleared by Charles II in the 1660s and 1670s to make way for a new one. The first range of this, John Webb's unfinished wing of 1664-69, is immediately behind the tournament tower ruins. From 1696 this wing was incorporated as the eastern range of the new King Charles court of Greenwich Hospital, with the King William, Queen Anne and Queen Mary courts completed between then and 1751. In the middle distance are the medieval church towers of St Alfege, Greenwich, and St Nicholas, Deptford.

London is visible on the horizon with the towers and spires of several churches built after the Great Fire of 1666. The memorial to the fire, the Monument, completed in 1676, is also clearly visible. The River Thames also features prominently in the composition. Several ships, including sprit-rigged royal yachts, are shown off Greenwich, firing salutes, while in the distance to the left warships can be seen laid up off the Royal Dockyard at Deptford. These elements are signifiers which position Greenwich as a manifestation of the restored monarchy - a place of royal parkland and high-status buildings identified with the Crown. The affluently dressed gentleman and lady with a small dog, walking on the pathway on the left, together with the group behind them on the right and many grand private houses flanking the Park, reinforce Greenwich as a place for the powerful, wealthy and leisured.

After the plague and subsequent Fire of London, the king was anxious to establish a palace away from such potential dangers of the crowded City. The painting's intention is thus to reinforce the rebirth of the monarchy and position Greenwich, well outside the City, at the heart of the project. The sun-burst on the left underscores its purpose of showing an emerging Greenwich with the capital beyond, under the favour of the restored House of Stuart. In this golden evening glow, the presence of the Observatory high on the left, looking down on the Thames and its shipping, also alludes to Charles II's enlightened patronage of science in support of England's growing maritime power.

The Dutch-born artist lived and worked in Utrecht and Paris and was in England before 1678. He is known to have worked at the court of Charles II where he was commissioned to produced landscapes and views. In about 1685 he was commissioned to visit Constantinople to draw antiquities. Several painted variants of this view were derived from this work, as well as engravings.This one is a pair with a view of Windsor Castle, about 1690 (BHC4217) both presented to the Naval Gallery of Greenwich Hospital by the executors of Samuel Enderby, in 1830. Enderby was a well-known London whaling entrepreneur, with a base on the East Greenwich waterfront.

Object Details

ID: BHC1808
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - QH
Creator: Vorsterman, Johannes
Places: Greenwich Park; Greenwich Royal Observatory The Queen's House Greenwich Hospital Palace of Placentia
Date made: circa 1680
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection
Measurements: Painting: 760 x 1640 mm; Frame: 912 mm x 1787 mm x 115 mm; Weight: 33.6 kg

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