Anecdotes of Painting in England: With Some Account of the Principal Artists - Vol. 2

By Horace Walpole | Go to book overview

SIR JAMES THORNHILL,

(1676—1734,)

a man of much note in his time, who succeeded Verrio, and was the rival of Laguerre in the decorations of our palaces and public buildings, was born at Weymouth, in Dorsetshire, was knighted by George I., 1 and was elected to represent his native town in Parliament. His chief works were—the dome of St. Paul's, an apartment at Hampton-court, the altar-piece of the chapel of All-souls, at Oxford, 2 another for Weymouth, of which he made them a present, 3 the hall at Blenheim, the chapel at Lord Oxford's, at Wimpole, in Cambridgeshire, the saloon and other things for Mr. Styles, at Moor-park, Hertfordshire, 4 and the great hall at Greenwich-hospital. 5 Yet, high as his reputation

____________________
1
Born at Woodland, in Melcombe Regis, which borough, and not Weymouth, he represented in Parliament, in 1719 (5th George I.) He had been preceded there by Sir Christopher Wren. Knighted, 1715. The title of Historical Painter to the Crown was first given to him by Queen Anne.—D.
2
The paintings in the interior circle of the cupola of St. Paul's cathedral consist of eight very large compartments, the subjects of which are taken from the life and history of that apostle. They are drawn in chiaro-scuro, heightened with gold. In the Anecdotes of Bishop Newton, prefixed to his works, vol. i. p. 105, he observes, "Sir J. Thornhill had painted the history of St. Paul in the cupola, the worst part of the church that could have been painted ; for the pictures are there exposed to the changes of the weather, suffer greatly from damp and heat; and let what will be done to prevent it, must in no very long time all decay and perish. It was happy therefore that Sir James's eight original sketches and designs, which were finished higher than usual, in order to be carried and shown to Q. Anne, were purchased of his family at the recommendation of the Dean (Dr. Newton), in the year 1779, and are hung up in the great room of the Chapter-house. Beside, the exposition of these pictures in the cupola is 170 feet from the ground, so that they cannot be conveniently seen from any part, and add little to the beauty of the church." They are now (1827) blistered and parted from the surface.—D.
3
The altar-piece at Weymouth was engraved by a young man, his scholar, whom he set up in that business.
4
Moor-park was designed by Giacomo Leoni, and built for Mr. Styles, the richest of the South-sea adventurers. Sir J. Thornhill was the surveyor. He painted the saloon and hall ; the ceiling of the first-mentioned is an exact copy of Guido's Aurora, in the Rospigliosi palace, at Rome. In the hall are four large compartments, which exhibit the story of Jupiter and Io, from Ovid's Metamorphoses.—D.
5
The hall of Greenwich hospital has been generally considered as Thornhill's largest and best work. In the centre, King William and Queen Mary are allegorically represented as sitting, and attended by the Virtues and Hymen, who support the sceptre ; the king appears to be giving peace to Europe. The twelve signs of the zodiac surround the great oval in which he is painted ; the four seasons are seen above, and the sun (Apollo), drawn by his four horses, makes his tour through the zodiac. The four elements are represented in the angles ; and between the colossal figures which support the balustrade are placed the portraits of those able mathematicians, by whom the art of navigation has been perfected, Tycho Brahe, Copernicus, and Newton. The whole ceiling was the work of Thornhill, and the design has as much of propriety and meaning as is usually presented by the

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