Naval History

Britain's 'Sistine Chapel': Preserving More Than 300 Years Of Naval History

Repairs to the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich have taken three years.


A conservation project to preserve a unique piece of Royal Navy history has come to an end.

The Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich has been undergoing restoration work since the summer of 2016.

The 40,000 square feet of paintings were created by the British artist Sir James Thornhill between 1707 and 1726 at the pivotal moment when the United Kingdom was created and became a dominant power in Europe.

The artworks on the walls and ceiling are considered one of the most spectacular and important baroque interiors in Europe.

Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich.
The Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich was originally named The Royal Hospital for Seaman.

The project's director Will Palin said it represents one of the great treasures of world architecture and art. 

He said:

"The lower hall ceiling above us is technically the largest painting in Britain - so we have an object of magnificence here."

The painting includes images of how the Royal Navy was beginning to build the British Empire while protecting home shores.

Mr Palin said the paintings were designed to showcase the UK's power and aspirations of the period.

He said:

"This was to project to the world the importance of the British Navy and also the cultural ambitions of the nation as whole."

Windows at the Painted Hall at Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich
The vast windows at the Painted Hall of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich.

The Royal Naval College was originally established in 1873 after the buildings of the Royal Hospital for Seamen were acquired. 

The Painted Hall was originally intended as a grand dining room but it soon became a ceremonial space open to paying visitors and reserved for special functions.

A team of 20 were involved in the £8.5 million restoration and the public will be able to see the makeover from 25 March.