VERRIO & THORNHILL AT HAMPTON COURT PALACE
Around 30 academics, curators, heritage professionals and conservators met at Hampton Court Palace on 23 October for a tour and . Our focus were the mural schemes of Antonio Verrio and Sir James Thornhill, completed for William III, Queen Anne and George I between the years 1700 and 1715. Guided tours of the State Apartments, including the Little Banqueting House (not normally open to the public) were led by Brett Dolman and Cécile Brett of Historic Royal Palaces. The group also met with an HRP conservator and contracted photographer, who were able to discuss the challenges and ambitions of creating a complete rectified photographic database of the murals. Discussions during the morning brought issues of iconography, meaning and audience to the fore, while we continued our investigation into workshop practice and mural painting technique.
After lunch, the group reconvened for two short presentations and a chaired debate. David McNeil (Dalhousie University) presented new thoughts on Verrio’s Kings Staircase, and Brett Dolman summarised the current knowledge and research about Verrio’s work at Hampton Court. The group then discussed and debated issues of meaning and reception, including the possibility that Verrio’s schemes referenced not only religious and political themes but also included an implicit ironic commentary on the absurdity of equating monarchical power with divine authority. This might create new possibilities for our understanding of mural schemes outside of Hampton Court. It was also interesting to address issues of how the schemes were created, thematically and practically, while looking into the role that Thornhill – and also Louis Laguerre - may have played in Verrio’s work at the palace. Finally, we also discussed how murals in historic houses might be better interpreted to the public, using digital technology, lighting and ‘old tech’ including mirrors and pictorial keys to the complicated compositional elements of each scheme.