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You can now take a tour of the Painted Hall ceiling (the ‘Sistine Chapel of the UK’) in Greenwich

Written by
Stephanie Hartman

The Painted Hall at the Old Naval College in Greenwich – often described as ‘the Sistine Chapel of the UK’ – is undergoing major conservation work. It’s due to be completed over the next two years and will see conservators turn their attention to 40,000 square feet of the ceiling’s painted surface, bringing new vibrancy to it following decades of decay.

Situated in a building designed by Sir Christopher Wren and founded in 1694, the Painted Hall is covered in works by Sir James Thornhill which were painted between 1707 and 1726 and feature triumphant scenes flanked by trompe l’oeil architecture. More than 200 historical, allegorical and mythological figures can be seen, telling the story of British maritime power at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

Over the next 18 months, visitors will be given a unique chance to see the ceiling up close, thanks to a 60-foot-high viewing deck that will raise them to the same level as the conservators. As well as the 45-minute tours, there will be a public programme of events celebrating the hall and its history, encouraging exploration of the themes in Thornhill’s paintings. 

Conservation director William Palin said: ‘We are delighted to offer visitors the chance to see Sir James Thornhill’s masterpiece close-up through ceiling tours. The Painted Hall is one of Britain’s greatest architectural and artistic treasures, and this project aims to raise it to the national and international prominence it deserves. This is a wonderful chance for people to see world-class conservators at work and watch the transformation take place over the next two years.’

Credit Andrew Thompson © ORNC

Credit Andrew Thompson © ORNC


Painted Hall Ceiling Tours, Old Royal Naval College. Tours take place daily between 10am and 5pm (last admission 4pm). £10.

Get down to the Hunterian Museum before it closes its doors for three years.

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