… not our latest Queen, but Stuart queens all the way back to Anne of Denmark, the wife of King James I, way back at the beginning of the 17th century.
The architect Inigo Jones was commissioned to design the building in 1616, but sadly Anne didn’t live to see his progressive Classical design realised, dying in 1619 with only the first floor completed. It was not until 1629, when James’s son Charles I gave Greenwich to his wife Henrietta Maria, that work on it resumed.
The Queen’s House was completed around 1636 and was the first fully Classical building in England.
We’re moving at a frantic pace these past few days, trying to catch up on at least some of what we missed during 10 days of Covid self-isolation. The Queen’s House was on my list of places to tour in Greenwich, but it has been closed much of our time here while exhibits were being changed. It opened last weekend for 2 days, but we were “at home”, leaving this weekend as our only chance to visit before leaving England on Friday.
While by no means the most impressive edifice in town, you have to put into perspective that much of modern-day Greenwich was designed around this building. It is hard to imagine today how ground-breaking Jones’ white-cube design was in a town that once was otherwise made up of red brick Tudor architecture. Nowadays Greenwich is dominated by the Old Royal Naval College and National Maritime Museum: buildings that were designed around, and influenced by the Queen’s House.
Henrietta Marie and subsequent queens who lived here were great patrons of the arts, so it’s only fitting that the house is now an art gallery.
I was struck by a sign in the Great Hall that said “All art was once contemporary”. Hmm. It’s easy to forget when ogling great works of art from prior centuries that they were simply the art and style of the time; while the detailed portraits and stirring naval scenes may have been painted to commemorate people and events, their purpose was not to awe art-lovers 300 years hence. In fact, some of them were just considered the equivalent of today’s family photos!
In the Queen’s Presence Chamber was an exhibit of portraits of some of the noblemen, statesmen and adventurers in Queen Elizabeth I’s circle. Queen Elizabeth never lived here, although the house is built on the site of the palace in which she was born; this room was Henrietta Marie’s bedchamber. The opulent painted ceiling dates from Henrietta Marie’s time.
Holding pride of place in the room is one of 3 versions of the “Armada Portrait” of Queen Elizabeth I (this one originally from Woburn House). We watched a truly fascinating 10-minute documentary about the most recent restoration of this painting, which removed layers of dirt and old varnish to restore its beautiful colours. Up close, we could still see how the wooden board on which it is painted has warped over the years. It was, after all, painted in 1588!
The Queen’s Privy Chamber featured portraits of Tudor and Stuart monarchs.
There were many, many images of Horatio Nelson among the portraits and busts, as well as some that revealed what were, to me, some surprising personal information about him.
It was another interesting tour, and one of the free admission portions of the Royal Museums Greenwich group.