Original Drawing by Sir James Thornhill
A 17th century drawing by Sir James Thornhill, an English painter well known for the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College, was discovered back in June 2018. Rebecca Parrant, our Heritage Engagement and Interpretation Manager, discovered the sketch tucked away within an envelope containing more modern, unrelated, documents. Rebecca was accompanied by Alison Fisher, postgraduate student, University of Greenwich, who instantly recognised the work.
Thornhill's drawing appears to depict the story of St Alfege, Archibishop of Canterbury who was murdered by the Danes in 1012 AD. The left-hand drawing is titled “Fettering & tormenting St Elphage” and the right-hand drawing is titled “Death of St Elphage”.
Below you will find detailed images of the front and back of the Thornhill sketch which were kindly taken by the University of Greenwich.
© St Alfege Church
'Within the drawing two sketches appear side by side and both show a composition that comprises an arch supported by two flat pillars. Initial research suggests that these might have been early concept proposals for the chancel painting at St Alfege Church. The existing painting in the chancel has been attributed to Thornhill’s workshop and was extensively restored by Glyn Jones during the 1946-53 restoration project’ (Alison Fisher, Postgraduate student, University of Greenwich)
© St Alfege Church
‘On the reverse of the drawing are some reference notes, in brown ink, concerning the life of St Alfege with page numbers and abbreviated book titles. These notes imply research carried out to enable the depiction of appropriate scenes from the life of St Alfege. A pencil note below, in another hand, has added “Sir James Thornhill, 1625, (artist. Greenwich)” so seemingly someone else had thought that this drawing was by Thornhill, although the date must be wrong.' (Alison Fisher, Postgraduate student, University of Greenwich)
Thanks to funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, our Heart of Greenwich place and people project will make our heritage accessible to a wider audience and this exciting discovery adds to our rich history. We will be working with a paper conservator to identify ways in which the drawing can be included within the interpretation displays being developed for inside the church for Spring 2021 (delayed due to COVID-19).