Designed as a dining room for retired and disabled sailors and completed in 1726, the Painted Hall is an over-the-top banqueting space that's covered floor to ceiling with the largest painting in Europe and often called the 'Sistine Chapel of the UK'. In 2019, a £8.5m restoration lifted nearly 300 years of grime, cigar smoke, previous poor preservation techniques and even food from the 4200 sq m of painted surface, making the colours shine like new all the way up the 18m-high roof.
Artist Sir James Thornhill, who worked in the Italian baroque style, was commissioned for the huge hand-painted piece of work, which took 19 years and three monarch changes to complete. The paintings celebrate Britain's naval prowess, the reigning royalty, commerce, trade and religion – more political propaganda than historical fact – and are painted with a trompe l’oeil effect (meaning 'trick the eye') that makes them look 3D. Taking pride of place in the golden oval in the centre of the main hall gives credit to the founders of the Greenwich Hospital, the joint rulers Queen Mary II and King William III. The defeated French king, Louis XIV, grovels beneath William's feet.
An audio guide, included in the ticket price, provides amusing stories behind the characters and the paintings.