BY JAMES TWOMEY
The “Sistine Chapel of the UK” reopened last weekend after renovation works saw it closed for two years.
The Painted Hall in Greenwich has undergone a £8.5million conservation project, supported by a £3.1million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund which has brought its painted interior back to life.
The building forms part of the Old Royal Naval College, which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren as a ceremonial dining room for what was then the new Royal Hospital for Seamen in 1705.
Its vast decorative scheme was painted by Sir James Thornhill, the first British artist to be knighted, which started in 1707 and took 19 years to complete.
The paintings celebrate England’s naval power and mercantile prosperity, as well as its newly-installed Protestant monarchy.
Angela McConville, chief executive of the Old Royal Naval College, said: “We are able to reveal the beautifully conserved Painted Hall to the public.
“We passionately believe that the story of Greenwich starts here, on this magnificent site, and so it is a great delight that through this epic project, below and above the ground, we are revealing 500 years of history.
“Our new visitor experience will, we believe, bring delight and stimulate curiosity for many more visitors and be a place for locals to enjoy again and again.”
The opening day on Saturday saw a procession of naval marching and rituals followed by two junior navy cadets cutting the ribbon.
William Palin, Painted Hall project director, said: “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.”
Ros Kerslake, chief executive of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: “The National Lottery funding has enabled the Painted Hall, with its extraordinary ceiling – the ‘Sistine Chapel of the UK’ – to be conserved for future generations to enjoy.
“Our investment has supported this complex and extensive project by the Old Royal Naval College to successfully restore one of the lesser-known treasures of the Greenwich World Heritage Site.”