We were invited to inspect the Thornhill ceiling paintings in the Painted Hall in Greenwich before the scaffolding is struck at the end of the month.
First, it was, as always, a pleasure to see the great mise-en-scène of the Royal Naval Hospital as laid out by Wren, with the help of Hawksmoor, after its foundation by Queen Mary after the Battle of La Hogue in 1692. The first building, which was already there, was John Webb’s earlier wing of the Royal Palace:-
Wren and Hawksmoor then added the great double flanking colonnades allowing the view through to the Queen’s House as Queen Mary required:-
On 1 February 1698, Wren was asked to ‘ lay before the Committee at the next meeting a draught and estimate of an Hall to be added to the present building in pursuance of the general design’. On 5 April, Wren’s Clerk of Works (i.e. Hawksmoor) was instructed ‘to set out the ground’ and the detailed drawings in the Soane Museum are in his hand.
Thornhill was commissioned to undertake work on the painted hall in July 1707, after it had been plastered ‘after the best manner fit for painting’ by the appropriately named Mr. Doogood.
One enters under the Dome, which, as Thornhill himself described in his published Explanation of the Painting in the Royal Hospital at Greenwich (London, 1726), has ‘the four WINDS painted in Stone Colour’:-
At the far end is a wall painting, already restored, which shows George I ‘leaning on a Terrestial Globe’:-
Above, a view of St. Paul’s:-
Mercury draws attention to the motto, JAM NOVA PROGENIES CAELO:-
Thornhill himself is present in the lower right:-
As one climbs the scaffolding up onto the roof, one sees the incredibly high quality of the carved decoration:-
But, also, that Thornhill (or his assistants) was a much better painter than history generally allows him to have been:-
Queen Mary has the unexpected feature of the name of her late eighteenth-century restorer written on her breast:-