Original Drawing by Sir James Thornhill
Within the drawing two sketches appear side by side and both show a composition that comprises an arch supported by two flat pillars. The drawing on the left is titled “Fettering & tormenting St Elphage” and the right-hand drawing is titled “Death of St Elphage”. 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.
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.
Below you will find detailed images of the front and back of the Thornhill sketch which were kindly taken by the University of Greenwich.
The above 17th century drawing by Sir James Thornhill, an English painter well known for the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College, was discovered in June 2018 hidden within St Alfege Church archive boxes (which were on loan to Greenwich Heritage Centre). 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 and produced the above notes on the drawing.
Thanks to funding from National Lottery players through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), 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 Autumn 2019.