Humber with His Piggs of Lead
I have this grand, pristine image of the Painted Hall in my mind but when I actually went in there a couple of weeks ago after a long-ish gap, I realised just how shabby it’s looking just now. Years of candle and gas lights, smoke, light, fumes and all manner of other nasties have taken their toll, with dark patches of tarnished varnish, peeling paint and even what looks suspiciously like the remains of a thrown egg on one wall (the end, near the Nelson Room; it catches rather alarmingly in the artificial light, though it could, of course, be a glass of juice or wine or something similarly sticky.
Last year the Greenwich Foundation finally got news that it was to receive lottery cash to help develop an application to spruce up the Painted Hall (which seems like a very long-winded piece of bureaucracy if you ask me but then I’ve never understood the mysteries of public funding…) but it still needs vast amounts of money.
There are various schemes to raise funds, from the grand to the tiny. You can make a large donation and your name will be added to the illustrious names already taking pride of place in the hall:
(though I suspect you’d probably need to give a bit more than £19,500 to get the King’s name painted out and your name inserted) you can purchase a little badge for a quid (choose your favourite from Sir James Thornhill, Queen Caroline, Prince Frederick, Sir James Thornhill, a random cherub or Time – collect ‘em all!)
Or you can buy a copy of An Explanation of the Painting In the Royal Hospital At Greenwich, also for a pound.
Now, I’ve long wished for a facsimile edition of An Explanation… as I’ve never seen one, except under glass, at the Discovery Centre. It was written by Sir James Thornhill himself, knowing that the hall was destined to be a visitor attraction from the start. The Greenwich Pensioners guiding tourists round the place sold it for sixpence and, perhaps future-proofing it, perhaps just showing off, Thornhill wrote it as bilingual – it was in French as well as English.
I confess to be mildly disappointed that the Greenwich Foundation didn’t go the whole hog and do an exact copy of Thornhill’s guide – making it the same size as the original and including the full text rather than a transcript of the English on a couple of folded A4 sheets. Presumably they did their sums and worked out that there would be more people prepared to pay a pound for an approximation on nice, parchment-esque paper than Phantoms prepared to pay rather more than that for the full monty.
Of course I paid my pound – I’ve been wanting to know what Greenwich’s earliest tourist guide says for ages, and to be fair, the actual words are the most important thing.
And it’s charming. It’s more a description than an explanation – telling us what the symbols and figures are, rather than any kind of artist statement, which is rather refreshing. And what a fabulously ornate description. I love the idea of the river ‘Humber with his Piggs of Lead,’ ’great Feftoons of Sea Shells’, ‘vaft pots of flowers’, St George, the tutelar Saint of England’ ‘treading on a Flain Dragon’, ’the celebrated Englifh Aftronomer the Reverend Mr Flamfteed,’ and ‘his ingenious Difciple Mr Thomas Wefton’ ‘holding the Conftruction of ‘the great Eclipfe which happened April the 22nd, 1715, and, of course, the ‘Crouds of People rejoicing at his Majefty’s happy Arrival.’
Yes. This is definitely worth a pound. Hell – give them two; they’re going to need it. But I still can’t help rather hoping that at some point they’ll do an exact copy of the whole thing.
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