The Queen’s House, the beautiful 17th century villa in Greenwich designed for Anne of Denmark, is celebrating its 400th anniversary after a major refurbishment. It’s just reopened after 14 months and has new displays, lighting and colour schemes. The Palladian building was the work of the celebrated British architect, Inigo Jones. When he won the commission, he had recently returned from Italy and his plans reflected this: the first fully Classical building seen in England, its elegant white facade and double-height Great Hall were a far cry from the red brick warren of the neighbouring Tudor palace (now demolished).
Sadly Anne, the wife of James 1, never saw her mansion finished, though her portrait (above) hangs on the wall. She became ill not long after construction began and died in 1619. It was completed for Charles I’s wife, Henrietta Maria, but the Civil War that followed saw it stripped of much of its decoration and paintings. Members of the royal family visited occasionally after the Restoration but it never regained its former glory. Succeeding years saw it serve many purposes, including that of a home for the Park Ranger and later the Greenwich Hospital School. In 1937 it was reclaimed to house the art collection of the National Maritime Museum, with paintings by artists such as Canaletto, Hogarth, Lowry, Stubbs and Reynolds.
One of the most striking features of the refurbishment is the delicate gold leaf decoration by Turner prize-winner Richard Wright, scattered over the ceiling the Great Hall. Although modern, it’s a perfect complement to the airy space with its striking marble floor, while subtly echoing the gilt elsewhere in the house.
You pass from the upper gallery into two lavishly decorated rooms - the Presence Chambers of the King (above) and the Queen. These now have bright new colour on the walls and gold highlights the elaborately carved ceilings. A welcome touch - the elegant chairs that allow you to sit in comfort and study the portraits of royalty and courtiers, among them the famous Armada portrait of Elizabeth I, who was born at Greenwich.
Once owned by Sir Francis Drake, this became part of the national collection in July 2016 after a public fundraising campaign that attracted thousands of individual donations.
Also on display are treasures of the Royal Museums Greenwich art collection, many historic paintings of the area and new contemporary art with a nautical theme.
The refurbishment has also seen a restoration of the spectacular Tulip stairs, the earliest unsupported spiral staircase in England.
Despite the name Tulip, the floral design on the wrought-iron rails is probably of lilies, the royal flower of France, in honour of Henrietta Maria. The Queen's House has enough to keep a visitor happy for a good hour or two (there are some amazing treasures displayed in tiny cabinet rooms at the back of the house) and with the Maritime Museum, the Cutty Sark and Old Naval College (below) so close, it makes for a fascinating day out.
The Queen’s House is open every day 1000 – 1700. Admission free