Sarah Duthie, Director of Public Engagement

October 2017

Last year, in partnership with Art Happens, we launched a crowdfunding campaign to clean and conserve the proscenium arch in the Painted Hall, an intricately carved and gilded arch decorated with the signs of the Zodiac. We were delighted with the public’s response to our appeal, which raised £22,843, 107% of our target.

We are pleased to announce that the conservation of the arch is now complete. The work was undertaken from a specially constructed scaffold beneath the arch allowing conservators, gilders and masons to conduct vital cleaning and repairs. The completion of these works marks an important milestone in the wider Painted Hall Project.

Taurus carved into the stone of the Painted Hall arch

Gilded relief of Taurus, carved from the stone of the Painted Hall arch

Close examination of the arch allowed us to make several interesting discoveries. Earlier in the project there was some debate as to what the zodiac figures were made from, but it became apparent that the zodiac figures are actually carved into the arch blocks themselves. Hidden behind Taurus’ horn, for example, is a stone strut connecting to the keystone above - necessary to prevent the horn from snapping off.

Gilded figure of Virgo on the proscenium arch

Virgo, partially gilded, on the arch of the Painted Hall

We could observe how the zodiac figures were gilded: areas out of view to the viewer from the ground are left un-gilded. The builders of the Painted Hall understood that important savings could be made by reducing gilding to only the visible segments of the arch.

Cracking on parts of the sculptural group has been conserved

A large crack on the arch's sculpture been conserved through the insertion of pins to stabilise the stone

Access to the underside of the arch also allowed us to repair damage to the coat of arms of William III and Mary II. Some cracking was evident; though some of this was the natural settling of the stone, it was necessary to conduct some masonry work to secure some elements of the sculpture. Further cleaning work will take place on this sculpture later in the project – you can get very close to this part of the arch on a ceiling tour.

Over September and October, the Painted Hall was closed, allowing us to conduct this work, as well as removing scaffolding in the now-complete vestibule. Painted Hall Ceiling Tours reopen on 21 October - come and see the startling results of the works to the arch for yourself, as well as taking the once-in-a-lifetime trip up to our observation deck to see the Painted Hall ceiling from just feet away.

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If you haven't already, now's the time to book one of our acclaimed Painted Hall Ceiling Tours. Ascend 60 feet and discover the secrets of London’s largest painted ceiling.

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