'The Painted Hall' and 'The Chapel' in the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich

The Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich is one of the most extensive groups of public buildings in the baroque style in Britain. The Royal Naval College houses the 'Painted Hall' and 'The Chapel'.

The Painted Hall

The Painted Hall was decorated by Sir James Thornhill. The hall was used as a dining hall for the sailors. James Thornhill started the work in 1708 and finished it nineteen years later in 1727. Whew! what a long time to finish it. But well worth the time taken.

The walls and ceilings all are covered with beautiful paintings with each painting telling a story.

In the central oval, the painting shows Peace and Liberty triumphing over Tyranny. Enthroned in heaven with the Virtues behind them, are William and Mary. Above them is the Sun god Apollo shedding his golden light while Peace with her doves and lambs surrounding her hands an olive branch to William.

William can be seen handing the red cap of liberty to Europe, a kneeling woman holding a white horse. Below William, is the defeated French king Louis XIV (attired in a yellow tunic) clutching a broken sword. Below these figures is the Spirit of Architecture holding the design for the Hospital.At the bottom, the goddess Minerva(wisdom) and Hercules(strength) hurl the Vices out of heaven.

The West Wall shows Britain’s new royal family - George I is surrounded by his children and grandchildren. The future George II stands beside Naval Victory.

James Thornhill himself appears in the bottom right-hand corner, with his paintbrushes and paints, possibly painted by himself but more likely by Andre Dietrich, who also painted the features of the royal family. Thornhill’s hands are outstretched, one indicating his great work while the other is believed to be asking for money!

The Chapel

The construction of the Chapel was completed in 1752 by Thomas Ripley. However, a huge fire broke out in 1779 burning down the entire Chapel. The Chapel was then redesigned and rebuilt in 1780s. The Chapel underwent a full restoration in the 1950s with the original colour scheme re-established.

Today the Chapel appears almost as it did in its re-opening in 1789.

The Pulpit of the Chapel is made from oak, mahogany and lime-wood. The vast painting above the Altar is by the American artist Benjamin West. It depicts the story of St Paul’s Shipwreck on the Island of Malta.

The Organ is a fine example of the work of Samuel Green, the leading organ builder in those days. The Organ case is made of Spanish mahogany. The organ gallery is supported on six fluted columns, each carved out of a single piece of marble. It is used virtually every day by the organ scholar at Trinity College of Music and weekly during Sunday services.

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