Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Queen’s House

London SE10 9NN

Thursday November 24 2016

As this is such an important building we felt it should be treated separately from the Old Royal Naval College though of course they are only a five minute stroll away from each other.  The situation is certainly elevated compared to the college and affords a view across the river to Canary Wharf (sadly lacking in symmetry) and across the park uphill to the Observatory.

Greenwich, because of its easy access via the river and the probable benefits of ‘fresh air’,   had always been popular with royalty as a getaway destination. James 1st’s wife was Anne of Denmark and exercising his ‘divine right’ James took the land back off Henry Howard and initiated the building for her of the ‘House of Delights’ as it became known. His inspiration was to commission the architect Inigo Jones for the building and he in turn had been inspired by the new fashion of Palladian symmetry, which did of course link back to Vitruvius and classical building styles.   But the house is a delight – it manages to look compact and tidy from the outside while being surprisingly capacious inside.

Today’s approach is via the Undercroft and entrance is free. When we were there we seemed to be almost the only visitors so the somewhat bored room guides were keen to keep us ‘informed’ as we progressed around. The house has only recently (10/10/2016) re-opened after a major renovation and it sparkled inside as well as out. Our only sadness was that due to the need to conserve both wall coverings and the many pictures (newly installed pictures now number some 400) the blinds are firmly down so we were not able to appreciate the views in any direction. It is also quite easy to get confused and lost without being able to take bearings from the exterior.

The floors are fully intact save for a few cracks and complement the interior perfectly. In addition to the 40 metre perfect cube centrepiece which is the main room there are enfilades of smaller (but still well proportioned) rooms that lie beyond the grand hall. Some of these were added later and there is also a wonderful loggia which looks out onto the park behind. There are stairs both sides (and now a lift for access) with the newly refurbished Tulip (or are they more likely lilies?) banisters.  Intricate ironwork twirls effortlessly round a suspended staircase which allows you to look both up and down to the highest and lowest points, with floors suitably enhanced to meet the challenge.  It’s not the only show piece as there is an excellent balustrade surrounding the double height cube.

The smaller rooms have for the most part been hung with pictures from the collection with these arranged thematically, so Views/Ships/Naval Officers/Royals. The stand out picture is what is known as the ‘Elizabeth Armada Portrait – it looks very fresh and really catches the attention as indeed it was meant to – the outgunned English fleet had just defeated the Spanish Armada and the Queen looks very much ‘top dog’. Other Royal portraits include James II as a very camp Mars….

Apart from the assorted pictures there are a few vitrines with exhibits, largely appropriate to the setting – thus some Chinese style Delft tulipieres and some later de Morgan ceramics, as well as an imaginative Delft wall picture.  Jo refused to take a picture of an exuberant platter depicting a rather young looking Neptune on the grounds that she would not have liked to eat her dinner of a man with a six pack. I think it was more destined for the wall than the dining table so the photo of the other objects will have to suffice. Another interesting item is the Coat of Arms of the South Sea Company destined to collapse in the ‘bubble’ of that name – perhaps, like their modern day equivalents, they spent too much on the logo and not enough on analysing their investment… 

Once we had done a circuit of the rooms, peeped at the Loggia (a back extension not accessible) and revisited the grand hall by peering over the balustrade, we walked slowly down the restored tulip staircase admiring the newly painted cobalt blue banisters and the lovely spiral.

We shall have a further opportunity to admire the perfect cube from above when we take ourselves to the Observatory. 

All credit to Inigo Jones>

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