There are already loads of lovely reasons to visit Greenwich, and here’s possibly the best one yet. The Painted Hall, in the heart of Greenwich’s historic Old Royal Naval College, boasts grandeur on a jaw-dropping scale; it’s little wonder why this venue is splashed all over our Instagram and TikTok feeds at the mo.
What’s more, until February 4, the venue houses a stunning temporary installation entitled ‘Coalescence’. Designed by Paul Cocksedge, Coalescence features over 2,500 pieces of sparkling coal suspended in the Upper Hall of The Painted Hall. The installation plays with shadow and sparkles, depicting the amount of coal consumed by a single 200W light bulb in a year, and calling into question our dependence on fossil fuels.
The history of The Painted Hall
The Painted Hall was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the baroque style – although that apparently wasn’t quite fancy enough, as artist Sir James Thornhill was brought in to give it a lick of paint. The space is often referred to as the ‘Sistine Chapel of the UK‘, and it’s not hard to see why.
The original work was a painstaking affair, begun by Thornhill in 1707, and taking 19 years to finish. Renovation works in recent years, mercifully, were a much speedier business. With £8.5 million pumped into the project, and specialist supervisors overseeing works, the stunning paintings spent two years being rejuvenated. A state-of-the-art LED illumination system further helps to bring out the best of the artwork.
Royal figures, grand scenes, nautical references, and fascinating details are rendered in glorious colour across the ceiling and walls. You can spot at least five English monarchs depicted in The Painted Hall, often trampling Britain’s enemies or receiving blessings from heaven.
The Painted Hall is a marvellous spot for a wander, but there’s no need to stay on your feet. Intricately carved oak benches, which were originally made in the 19th century, were returned to the venue for the first time in 100 years. You’re invited to lie down on them and take in the grandeur of the ceiling from a comfier position, reportedly as 18th-century viscount, Horatio Nelson, used to do.
A talk about The Painted Hall takes place daily, every 30 minutes between 11am and 4pm, for those who wish to join. There are also hourly guided tours (11am–3pm) from the Visitor Centre, and audio tours to learn more about the story behind Sir James Thornhill’s works. And it’s not just the artwork and installations you can admire here: you’re welcome to hold the shattered sword of King Louis XIV and don the majestic cloak of King William. Sounds like a royally good day out to us!
Also published on Medium.