Friday, April 14, 2017

The meaning of the Old Royal Naval College Painted Hall

The amazing Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College is full of amazing imagery and on my recent tour some it was explained by our guide. Alas not all was explained (or remembered) so in this post there are some diversions when I had to fill in my own stories.

Lets start with the end wall (above) and have a look at the bottom right where you can see this figure:
This is a self portrait of the artist James Thornhill. There was probably some symbolism or etiquette to explain the hand gesture but my take was he was asking to be paid.

At the centre is King George and to the left of him these children:
These were actually a big political point. The one thing that the royals have to do is have children. Other problems, including going mad, is something the system can work around. Alas the problem with William and Anne was the lack of offspring. Anne in particular had 17 children but sadly none survived.

So when the House of Hanover took over they were keen to demonstrate that this wouldn't be a problem for them.

I suspect that the globe was the standard imperial pretensions - unless it was for the children planning their gap year travels.

This scene was not explained:

I'm going with the story of how a resourceful thief bared her breast to distract the king while stealing his gold stick with jewels in it thing.

Up on the ceiling the east end had a spot of astronomy and astronomers in it. The guide asked why it was that sailors might be interested to know about the movement of the moon and I'm sure you know why to and you'd be welcome to say so in the comments section.

For example there was this figure:

This relates to the Astronomer Royals prediction of a solar eclipse, complete with date and year. It was suggested that this was a bit of a hostage to fortune as if it didn't happen and had been painted on the ceiling it would be visible for ever and ever.

Fortunately it did happen, though the date was actually "wrong" as Britain was using the old Gregorian calendar.

Nearby was this old sailor:
Apparently he was a bit of a trouble maker so the hospital wanted to find him something to keep him occupied for a bit. It was apparently successful - but only for the duration of the sitting, and then he returned to his usual drinking etc.

But its an interesting thought that some of the characters shown in these figures would have been based upon real people that walked the streets of London. So who was this woman with the owl on her head?
Curiously enough while passing the Cutty Sark on my way to the Painted Hall I saw a stand from a local bird sanctuary and they had an owl too.

Greenwich is indeed one place where you can feel connected to the long and rich history of London.

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