The Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College Greenwich, described as ‘the Sistine Chapel of the UK’, is undergoing a major transformation over the next two years, including the creation of a new visitor centre, Sackler Gallery and café developed by Hugh Broughton Architects. The ceiling tours will be accessible to all.


The Painted Hall is the lavish centrepiece of the Old Royal Naval College, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and founded in 1694. Considered to be the greatest Baroque decorative scheme in England, the walls and ceilings were painted by Sir James Thornhill between 1707 and 1726 with a series of triumphant scenes framed by trompe l’oeil architecture. The spectacular paintings are an exuberant display of British maritime power at the beginning of the eighteenth century, a story told with the help of more than 200 historical, allegorical and mythological figures. It celebrates the royal founders of the Hospital, William III and Mary II, together with successive monarchs, Anne and George I.


Over the next two years, conservators will work on 40,000 square feet of the ceiling’s painted surface, bringing new life and vibrancy to paintings obscured by decades of decay. Environmental controls will ensure no further intervention on the paintings will be necessary for 100 years. A 60 foot-high observation desk has been constructed, and though ceiling tours on the deck the public will be able to see conservators at work and get closer to Thornhill’s work that ever before.


The Painted Hall commission catapulted Thornhill to fame and he subsequently won other important decorative commissions, including the dome of Sir Christopher Wren’s newly-completed St Paul’s Cathedral, the chapel ceiling of Queen’s College Oxford and the hall at Blenheim Palace. He was appointed history painter-in-ordinary to the George I in 1718 and sergeant-painter in 1720, the year which also saw him become the first British artist to receive a knighthood.


William Palin, Conservation Director said:

“We are delighted to offer visitors the chance to see Sir James Thornhill’s masterpiece close-up through ceiling tours. The Painted Hall is one of Britain’s greatest architectural and artistic treasures, and this project aims to raise it to the national and international prominence it deserves. This is a wonderful chance for people to see world-class conservators at work and watch the transformation take place over the next two years.”


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.


A major gift of £1m from The Gosling Foundation was announced in January 2017. Other grants, including £3.1m awarded from the Heritage Lottery Fund in March 2016 and support from some of the UK’s leading philanthropists, have enabled the £8.5m conservation project to begin. A further £2m is necessary to complete the project, and all donations will go towards the restoration fund and the conservation.


The Old Royal Naval College recently ran a crowdfunding campaign through Art Happens, hosted by Art Fund, raising over £22,000 to conserve the proscenium arch in the Painted Hall. The arch will be returned to its original shimmer splendour through repairing and re-gilding the original decorations, perfectly framing The Golden Age Returned.


Listings Information

Ceiling tours of the Painted Hall

Daily from Saturday 1 April 2017 - 2 September 2018, 10am – 5pm (last admission 4pm)

Adult ticket £10 / Child ticket (aged 6 – 17) £5

Full disabled access


Press Enquiries:

Andrew Thompson


Mobile: 07711 698 186

 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 rich 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 grand-scale decorative painting in England and has been described as ‘the Sistine Chapel of the UK’. The abundant and complex scheme covers some 40,000 square feet and was designed and executed by Sir James Thornhill between 1707 and 1726.


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 country’s 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 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

About Hugh Broughton Architects

Hugh Broughton Architects was formed in 1996 and has a reputation for producing carefully crafted contemporary architecture. The practice has designed projects for many high profile clients including the British Council, Institution of Structural Engineers, National Galleries of Scotland, Royal Society of Chemistry and the TUC. The practice is best known for the design of Halley VI Antarctic Research Station designed for the British Antarctic Survey, which was officially launched in 2013 and has received fifteen international awards to date; and a purpose-built gallery for the Portland Collection, on the Welbeck Estate, Nottinghamshire, which received an RIBA East Midlands Building of the Year Award 2016 and RIBA National Award 2016, and is a finalist in the Civic Trust Awards 2017.

Art Fund and Art Happens

Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art. In the past five years alone Art Fund has given £34 million to help museums and galleries acquire works of art for their collections.


Art Happens is the UK’s only crowdfunding platform for the museum sector, hosted by the Art Fund, the national fundraising charity for art.


Art Happens’ achievements have been recognised by industry awards: in 2016 the platform won an Emcees Arts & Culture Award for Excellence in Fundraising for “Best use of digital channels in a fundraising campaign” and was also highly commended for “Most Innovative Fundraising Campaign” in the Institute of Fundraising’s National Fundraising Awards in 2015.


Find out more about Art Fund and the National Art Pass at

For further information please contact Madeline Adeane, Press Relations Manager, / 0207 225 4804