March 2013

The upper hall ceiling of the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College is to be cleaned as part of the first phase of the conservation programme it was announced today 4 March 2013.  The painting, which features portraits of Queen Anne and her consort Prince George of Denmark, is particularly noted for its very fine composition and execution.

“The conservation of the west wall is well on of schedule,” says Stephen Paine of conservation company Paine & Stewart, “so we are able to undertake the work on the upper hall ceiling as part of this phase of the conservation.”

The Greenwich Foundation launched a major fundraising campaign last year to ensure that the work on this historically important interior could be undertaken. It is anticipated that the cost of conservation work for the entire Painted Hall, which will take around five years to complete, will be in the region of £2.5million.

“We are delighted that in addition to the grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund generous donations from our many supporters and visitors have enabled us able to raise the sum needed to do the work on the upper hall ceiling as part of this phase of the Painted Hall conservation,” adds Brendan McCarthy, CEO of the Greenwich Foundation, the charity set up in 1997 to run the Old Royal Naval College.

The spectacular painting on the ceiling is an homage to Queen Anne who donated £6,472 (around £400,000 in today’s value) to commission Sir James Thornhill to work on the dining hall of Sir Christopher Wren’s Royal Hospital for Seamen. “Rumour has it,” adds McCarthy, “that this was actually booty which had been confiscated from the notorious pirate, Captain Kidd.”

The key characters on the upper hall ceiling are the Queen and her consort, who are pictured in a gold circle. Anne is in the foreground, reflecting her importance. They are attended by the virtues: Hercules is “Virtue Heroick” and he and “Concord Conjugal” hold the gold cartouche. At the next level up Liberality holds a cornucopia and Piety looks down modestly (Piety was especially associated with Queen Anne). At the very top Victory holds a laurel wreath.  The surrounding figures sit on clouds, forming a pictorial link between the lower hall oval (featuring Anne’s sister and predecessor Mary II with husband William III) and the west wall (featuring her successor George I and his).

The theme of this ceiling painting is naval power. Neptune is surrendering his trident to Prince George, who was Lord High Admiral of the British seas. To Neptune's right are Tritons and other deities of the sea bringing their respective offerings - coral, pearls, shells. The group of figures below are also linked to the sea, and the importance of good weather to naval fortunes. Juno (with her sceptre, peacock and attendant putti) and Aeolus, god of the winds, are commanding calm by expelling unruly elements from the picture – in just the same way as Athena and Hercules expel undesirables from the lower hall oval.

Personifications of the “four corners” of the known world painted along the sides of the ceiling are seen admiring Britain’s maritime power. The putti in the Europe section represent knowledge and power, and are reading one of Newton's books of mathematics and geometry. The coats of arms in the coving represent England (three lions), Scotland (Lion on a shield), France (fleur de lys) and Ireland (harp).

The work on the ceiling entails a number of changes to the scaffolding tours schedule See for details. To help the ORNC ensure that the Painted Hall can be fully restored visit


Notes For Editors

Old Royal Naval College
Sir Christopher Wren’s twin-domed riverside masterpiece is one of London’s most iconic buildings. It was built three hundred years ago as the Royal Hospital for Seamen, a refuge for injured and impoverished sailors of the Royal Navy. In the 19th century it became the Royal Naval College, where the Navy’s officers were trained. In 1998 the Royal Naval College moved to Shrivenham, and the Greenwich Foundation took over management of the site to conserve the buildings and open them to the public. By 2011 the site, which includes the Painted Hall, Chapel and Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre, and stages a year-round programme of events, had become the 11th most popular visitor attraction in the UK.

Heritage Lottery Fund
Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) sustains and transforms a wide range of heritage for present and future generations to take part in, learn from and enjoy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage.  HLF has supported more than 33,000 projects allocating £4.9 billion across the UK including £932 million to over 3,000 projects in London alone.  HLF gave a grant of £335,000 towards to cost of conservation of the west wall at the ORNC and an associated programme of public events and community projects.

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