The November visit by London Studies 1 to the Old Royal Naval College, ably led by Anne Green, was a particularly fascinating educational experience as the group was given an excellent talk on the symbolism behind the painted interior of the Painted Hall. The Hall was built as a grand ceremonial dining room for the Royal Hospital Naval Pensioners. Sir James Thornhill’s painted interior is considered to be the masterpiece of English Baroque art. The main ceiling features William III and Mary II, the founders of the Royal Hospital and celebrates Britain” political stability, commercial prosperity and particularly, its naval power. The Painted Hall has recently been reopened after a major restoration programme.
The talk we were given by the very well informed guide explained in some detail the complex symbolism of the paintings, which without a guide would be lost to most people today. We particularly liked being informed about the symbolism behind the image of the painter himself. Thornhill was commission to paint the Hall in 1707 when he was only 27, and it took some 19 years to complete some 40,000 square feet of painting. He received a knighthood and payment of £6,685 for his efforts, but his image hints that he felt this sum was insufficient!
The Old Naval College is certainly well worth a visit to see the Painted Hall especially as the location has a lot to offer for a day trip including the opportunity to have a game of skittles at the Skittle Alley created in the 1860s to give the Naval Pensioners some exercise, visit the nearby Queen’s House (also recently restored and free to visit), and one of the best views of London from the Royal Observatory.