The Ghostly Hand & The Creepy Foot
James Thornhill, who I will write about in detail another time, was paid bugger-all to decorate his mate Christopher Wren’s Painted Hall (which I will also come onto at a later date.) He spent nineteen years being paid between £ 1 and £ 3 per square yard to lie on his back/ climb scaffolding/ crawl about on his hands and knees painting the various kings and queens who came and went in the duration of his massive project. He’d been saddled with “The Triumph of Peace And Liberty Over Tyranny,” “Apollo,” “The Four Seasons,” “The Signs of the Zodiac,” lists of benefactors, ships, cupids, sundry bigwigs; you name it, he painted it. He felt he needed his fun.
He painted himself – rather bigger than one or two of his patrons, I note, a grizzled old pensioner of 96 who was still being regularly had up before the beak for drunkenness, debauchery, profanity and bringing ladies of ill-repute into the hospital, depicting him as the sage and venerable ‘Winter’ – and, my favourite, reputedly taking King George I at his word, by painting George’s estranged wife literally under the carpet.
Queen Sophia had originally got herself in trouble back in Germany, where after being forced to marry her first cousin, reviled by the court and hated by her in-laws, she had allegedly (and frankly understandably)fallen into the arms of the dashingly-titled Swedish Count Philip Christoph Von Konigsmarck. He got himself killed and thrown into a river under extremely dubious circumstances for the pleasure; she merely got put in gaol for the rest of her life.
But what’s sauce for the goose is rarely sauce for the gander too. When George added England to his list of realms, he came over (somewhat reluctantly – he didn’t like Britain and never learned to speak English) with a pair of mistresses, one very thin; the other rather fat. The British people, more shocked by his taste than his morals, nicknamed them The Maypole and The Elephant.
Thornhill, who by this time was getting a bit fed up with whitewashing out old monarchs and painting in the new models, asked King George if he wanted his wife in the picture. George, I understand, said that the artist could paint his wife under the carpet for all he cared.
Go to the back of Painted Hall and look at the picture of the King and his family. About halfway along you will see the ghostly image of a hand sticking out from the rug as Sophia refuses to be literally swept under the carpet of History…
There is another oddity about this particular part of the mural. Check out the king’s foot and where it’s pointing. Now move position and look at it again. Try the same thing once more. Now. I’ve heard of eyes that follow you around the room…