May 2015

My job as research curator is to make sure the Painted Hall conservation and interpretation project is informed by a deep understanding of how and why Sir James Thornhill’s masterpiece was created. Just over a month into this exciting new role, I have had the privilege of looking at first hand at many of the preparatory sketches Thornhill made as he conceived this dramatic, complex and extremely well-organised decorative scheme. 

Among the collections I have visited are those of the V&A, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Courtauld Institute of Art. In the Courtauld’s print room I was particularly interested to view drawings made by Thornhill of the seven virtues that once adorned canvases in the windows along the Painted Hall’s north side (Goodwill, Generosity, Liberality and Humanity). These canvases were removed long ago, but you may have spotted that Thornhill refers to them in his printed Explanation (still on sale in the Painted Hall!). 

As I work towards a catalogue of preparatory sketches for the Painted Hall, some of the research questions I am exploring include Thornhill’s use of spatial effects such as ‘quadratura’ (fictive architecture which fools the eye and creates the illusion of perspective), and compositional devices such as ‘chiaroscuro’ (dramatic contrasts between light and dark). I am also investigating Thornhill’s life and career, and the professional, social and intellectual worlds he inhabited so that we can understand the Painted Hall in better context. 

I look forward to sharing my findings, and showcasing more of these superb drawings in an online exhibition this autumn.

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