The Painted Hall of the Old Royal Naval College Greenwich, described as ‘the Sistine Chapel of the UK’, will undergo a major transformation over the next two years, including the conservation of Sir James Thornhill’s painted ceiling and the creation of a new visitor centre, gallery and café.  As part of this landmark project, visitors are being given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see progress on the conservation close up, through a series of ceiling tours which will be launched on 1 April 2017. A lift will enable people of all ages and abilities, to reach the top-level platform and see the conservators at work.

A major gift of £1m from the Gosling Foundation was announced today. Although the project is not fully funded, other grants including £3.2m awarded from the Heritage Lottery Fund in March 2016 and support from some of the UK’s leading philanthropists has enabled the £8.5m conservation project to begin. A further £2m is necessary to complete the project.

Over the next two years, conservators will work on 3,400 square meters of painted surface, bringing new life and vibrancy to paintings obscured by decades of decay. A new visitor route and a range of sophisticated environmental controls are designed to ensure no further intervention will be necessary for 100 years.

The Painted Hall is the jewel of the Old Royal Naval College, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and opened in 1694. Considered to be the greatest work of decorative painting in England, the walls and ceilings were painted by Sir James Thornhill between 1708 and 1727 with a series of spectacular baroque paintings framed by trompe l'oeil architecture. The paintings celebrate the royal founders of the Hospital, William III and Mary II, together with successive monarchs, Anne and George I.

The Painted Hall catapulted Thornhill to fame and he subsequently won important commissions, including the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, the chapel ceiling of Queen’s College Oxford and the hall of Blenheim Palace. He was appointed history painter-in-ordinary to the king in 1718, sergeant-painter to the king in 1720, and knighted in the same year.

William Palin, Conservation Director said: “The Painted Hall is one of Britain’s greatest architectural and artistic treasures, but it is too little known. This project aims to raise it to the national and international prominence it deserves, providing a transformed and enriched visitor experience and helping us to engage with new audiences.”

Alongside the conservation work a programme of public engagement will celebrate every element of the Painted Hall and its history, promoting skills, dialogue, and independent discovery in the exploration of the universal stories and timeless themes of Sir James Thornhill’s paintings.

Hugh Broughton Architects London has been announced as the lead consultant to deliver the project.

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Notes to Editors:

About the Old Royal Naval College:

The Old Royal Naval College (ORNC) in Greenwich was established as the Royal Hospital for Seamen by King William III and Queen Mary II in 1694.

Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, it is one of the most important ensembles of baroque architecture in Europe. From 1705, the Royal Hospital provided modest, wood-lined cabins as accommodation for retired sailors, housing as many as 2,700 residents at its peak in 1814. The last naval pensioners left in 1869, when the site became home to the Royal Naval College, an officers’ training academy, until 1997. When the Navy left, an independent charity was established to conserve the site for present and future generations, and create enjoyment, learning and unique cultural experiences for everyone.

Today this historic landmark is open to the public and is the home of three unique and free to visit attractions; the Painted Hall, the Chapel, and the Visitor Centre.

The Painted Hall is the greatest piece of decorative painting in England and has been described as ‘the Sistine Chapel of the UK’. The walls and ceilings were painted by Sir James Thornhill between 1708 and 1727.

The Chapel of St Peter and St Paul is a neo-classical masterpiece by James ‘Athenian’ Stuart and William Newton. Featuring a Samuel Green organ and an altarpiece painted by Benjamin West, it is one of the finest eighteenth century interiors in existence.

The ORNC is free to all visitors and is open daily from 10.00-17.00.

The ORNC charity is grateful to the following organisations for their support of this project: the Heritage Lottery Fund, The Sackler Trust, the Art Fund,  The Garfield Weston Foundation, the Fidelity UK Foundation, the Foyle Foundation, Sir Siegmund Warburg's Voluntary Settlement, the Pilgrim Trust, the Headley Trust, the 29th May 1961 Charitable Trust and many anonymous donations.

About the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF)

Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about - from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. @heritagelottery