The Queen's House Greenwich

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The Queen’s House at Greenwich was built for Anne of Denmark, the queen of King James I. Work started in 1616, but Anne died in 1619 and never lived there. The building was completed in 1635 and briefly occupied by King Charles I’s queen consort Henrietta Maria before Civil War brought to an end the House’s royal occupancy.

Those details soon fade because what is wholly memorable is that The Queen’s House is Britain’s first classical building. Fresh from a grand tour of southern Europe, fired with a passion for Palladian architecture, Inigo Jones came up with the House’s radical design. White-painted — as opposed to red brick — this relatively diminutive symmetrical villa must have seemed novel in the extreme. It still retains this distinction some four hundred years later. After all, a marble-floored salon that is not only perfectly square, but also perfectly cubic, is more than noteworthy. That the black and white design of the floor is mirrored by the timbers of the ceiling exemplifies the new importance of geometry in defining a built space.

The original ceiling above the salon (whose massive oak timbers were carved by shipwrights) had a circular central panel painted for Queen Henrietta Maria by Orazio Gentileschi in about 1636-8. The subject is an allegory of Peace reigning over the Arts. The entire ceiling was removed to Marlborough House, London (now the Commonwealth Secretariat) in the early eighteenth century. It can be viewed through this link to the Royal Collection Trust website.

The House’s upper rooms serve as galleries for the some of the treasures of the Royal Museums Greenwich, most of which have a naval flavour.

1/17 The Queen's House, Greenwich - the north façade
The Queen’s House, Greenwich — the north façade
2/17 The Queen's House from the Old Royal Naval College upper court

The Queen’s House from the Old Royal Naval College upper court

3/17 The view north from the Queen's House, Greenwich

The view north from the Queen’s House, Greenwich

4/17 The Queen's House, Greenwich - south façade

The Queen’s House, Greenwich — south façade

5/17 The Queen's House, Greenwich, from the Greenwich Observatory

The Queen’s House, Greenwich, from the Greenwich Observatory

6/17 The Queen's House, Greenwich - the marble-floored, perfect cube salon

The Queen’s House, Greenwich — the marble-floored, perfect cube salon

7/17 The Queen's House, Greenwich - the ceiling of the perfect cube salon

The Queen’s House, Greenwich — the ceiling of the perfect cube salon

8/17 The Queen's House, Greenwich - detail of the ceiling of the cubic salon

The Queen’s House, Greenwich — detail of the ceiling of the cubic salon

9/17 The Queen's House, Greenwich - the salon's marble floor from above

The Queen’s House, Greenwich — the salon’s marble floor from above

10/17 The Queen's House, Greenwich - the Tulip Stairs

The Queen’s House, Greenwich — the Tulip Stairs, the first self-supporting spiral staircase built in Britain

11/17 The Queen's House, Greenwich - detail of the salon

The Queen’s House, Greenwich — detail of the salon

12/17 The Queen's House, Greenwich - the Tulip Stairs

The Queen’s House, Greenwich — the Tulip Stairs

13/17 The Queen's House, Greenwich - the Queen's Presence Chamber

The Queen’s House, Greenwich — the Queen’s Presence Chamber

14/17 The Queen's House, Greenwich - the painted ceiling of the Queen's Presence Chamber

The Queen’s House, Greenwich — the painted ceiling of the Queen’s Presence Chamber

15/17 The Queen's House, Greenwich

Portrait of Queen Elisabeth I, owned and possibly commissioned by Sir Francis Drake, painted around 1590, one of three surviving Armada Portraits, purchased for the nation at a cost of £10.3 million in 2016, now hanging in the Queen’s Presence Chamber in the Queen’s House at Greenwich.

16/17 An exhibition room in the Queen's House, Greenwich

An exhibition room in the Queen’s House, Greenwich, showing Henri Gascar’s late 17th century Baroque portrait of a swaggering James, Duke of York dressed to represent the Roman god of war, Mars

17/17 An exhibition room in the Queen's House, Greenwich

An exhibition room in the Queen’s House, Greenwich

The Royal Museums Greenwich hold some 45,000 maritime images in trust for the nation, some of which are displayed in The Queen’s House here at Greenwich. Their on-line Picture Library can be viewed though this link.

Blue balustrades

Navy blue (or indigo) appears to be the in-vogue colour for cast or wrought iron balustrades in some of London’s prestigious historic buildings. The Tulip Stairs, above, in the Queen’s House was built in the early 1600s. Somerset House in central London was built 150 years later. Its Nelson staircase (not pictured) is also serene in navy blue. The main staircase in Somerset House’s Cortauld Gallery, below, is the same colour. All have naval origins - naturally!

Staircase in the Cortauld Gallery in Somerset House
Staircase in the Cortauld Gallery in Somerset House