Conserving the Painted Hall - Britain's Golden Age Returned


Visitor notice: We are pleased to announce that Royal Museums Greenwich is reopening. To find out more about which sites will be open and how to plan your visit, click here.

As we prepare to open the newly refurbished Queen's House, the Old Royal Naval College (ORNC) are looking for help with their own conservation project. Sarah Duthie, Director of Public Engagement, tells us more.

Greenwich may be a leafy retreat from the hustle and bustle of central London, but for conservators, the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site is a hotbed of activity.
Aerial view of Maritime Greenwich
Not only is the Queen’s House – Inigo Jones’s introduction of Classical architecture to the UK – soon to reopen following extensive conservation works, but the Old Royal Naval College – Christopher Wren’s evolution of that Classical style – will soon undergo a landmark conservation project of its own.
Queen's House and Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich
The Old Royal Naval College, its divided layout and twin domes erected so that the view from the Queen’s House would remain unspoilt, contains one of Greenwich’s great hidden treasures: the Painted Hall.
Executed by Sir James Thornhill between 1708 and 1727, the elaborately decorated hall was originally intended as an eating space for Naval Pensioners – retired seamen from Britain’s Royal Navy. Over 4,200 square meters of painting glorify Britain’s maritime Golden Age, making the Painted Hall easily the largest painting in Europe.
Painted Hall Greenwich at the Old Royal Naval College
This August, the ORNC is crowdfunding to conserve an important part of this magnificent hall - the proscenium arch. Not only is the arch a focal point of the hall’s decorative scheme, but it forms a unique piece of our Naval Heritage. It was here that in January 1806 thousands of mourners gathered beneath this very arch to see the body of Vice-Admiral Nelson lying in state after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar. The thousands that attended this event, including the then Prince of Wales, George IV, made this a crucial moment in Nelson’s transformation into a national hero, and the elaborate gilding of the arch reflects this monumental occasion.
But since then, the arch’s beautifully carved embellishments have lost much of their original lustre. Layers of dirt and grime now obscure the shimmer of the gilding, which is in need of extensive cleaning and conservation to last the arch for the rest of the 21st century.
It’s here that we’re asking for your help – to donate to our crowdfunding project, hosted on the Art Happens website. We’ve got £21,250 to raise towards the project, and you can help get us there!
Proscenium Arch at the Old Royal Naval College
Those who support the campaign will receive a special thank you for their generosity. An exciting range of rewards has been created, ranging from sets of postcards depicting details from the arch and specially-designed tote bags, to a workshop allowing donors to try out the practice of gilding for themselves, and, for the highest tier of reward, an exclusive conservator led scaffolding tour of the Painted Hall, following an entry to the grounds of the ORNC by boat. As well as these rewards, donors will have the satisfaction of having contributed to the longevity of one of the UK’s most spectacular artistic monuments.
With the conservation of the proscenium arch and the Queen’s House, Greenwich is set to shine once more as one of the jewels of Britain’s artistic heritage.