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Baroque painting by Sir James Thornhill at the Old Royal Naval College undergoes restoration
Conservator Francesco Rosellini, originally from Florence in Italy, works on restoring the West Wall baroque painting by Sir James Thornhill entitled "The Golden Age Returned" in the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, London. The restoration on the interior artwork, which dates back to the second decade of the 18th century, is the first time it has been done for over 50 years and is due to take four months. AP Photo/Matt Dunham.

LONDON.- Following two weeks of work, a mighty scaffolding tower has now been installed behind this screen in the Painted Hall's upper hall.

This printed screen is an exact replica of Sir James Thornhill's painted masterpiece in the Baroque style, the west wall. It spans the entire arch and took 4 men to hoist into position. Its installation kick starts a programme of activity between December 2012 and May 2013 to conserve the west wall of the Painted Hall.

The conservation project is led by expert wall painting conservators Paine & Stewart. The painting was last conserved 50 years ago so it will be a huge task to clean areas of grime and stabilise some large cracks in the wall. We've found some amazing stuff on the walls so far, from dust, grease, soot, to gravy!

As part of this Heritage Lottery Funded project, we are also excited to be starting a programme of activities with visitors and members of the local community to explore the conservation works further and to produce a range of creative responses.

From mid-January this will include tours of the scaffolding (on our specially constructed 10m high viewing platform), a documentary film project with local students and, an exhibition co-curated by local ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) students and many more activities.

This news feed will provide regular updates throughout the project, including posts from the conservation team about the progress of the works and from people in the local community talking about their involvement.

The Painted Hall is often described as the ‘finest dining hall in Europe’. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor, it was originally intended as an eating space for the naval veterans who lived here at the Royal Hospital for Seamen. Its exuberant wall and ceiling decorations are by James Thornhill and pay tribute to British maritime power.

The Painted Hall sits within the King William Court. Wren submitted designs in 1698 and the roof and dome were in place five years later. When in 1708 James Thornhill began decorating the interior, he was instructed to include as many references as possible to the importance of the navy in Britain’s fortunes.

His ‘great and laborious undertaking’ was finally completed after 19 years, by which time the Painted Hall was felt to be far too grand for its original purpose. Respectable visitors were allowed admittance, after paying a small fee, and the residents of the Royal Hospital – Greenwich Pensioners – acted as tour guides. Thornhill was paid only £3 per square yard (about one square metre) for the ceiling, and just £1 per square yard for the walls. However, he did receive a knighthood in 1720 and his legacy is the finest painted architectural interior by an English artist.

In 1806, three months after the Battle of Trafalgar the previous October, the body of Horatio Nelson was brought to lie in state in the Painted Hall. A plaque marks the spot where his coffin was placed before it was taken for burial in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Between 1824 and 1936, the Painted Hall was known as the National Gallery of Naval Art, with over 300 naval-themed paintings on display. These paintings, together with portrait busts, drawings, ship models and relics of Nelson, formed the basis of the National Maritime Museum’s art collection.

In 1939, following extensive restoration, the Painted Hall was used for dining (including breakfast) by the officers of the Royal Naval College. It was also the venue for many grand dinners including in 1946 a banquet to celebrate the formation of the United Nations.

Today's News

January 7, 2013

Baroque painting by Sir James Thornhill at the Old Royal Naval College undergoes restoration

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