Sometimes, it takes a larger view for things to fall into perspective. Literally. Viewing the former Royal Naval College in Greenwich (pronounced Gren-itch) from across the Thames was one such experience.
I had spent a lovely day spent at Greenwich as part of a guided walk through Maritime Greenwich, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of particular interest to me were the two buildings of the former Royal Naval College, which was designed by Christopher Wren, and captured by the famous Italian painter, Giovanni Antonio Canal, better known as Canaletto. Throughout my explorations there, I kept searching for that one view that captured the beauty, simplicity and symmetry of Wren’s design, but in vain.
It wasn’t till I crossed the river Thames to the opposite bank to take the DLR back to London that I realised that I had been searching for Canaletto’s view from the wrong side. When I emerged from the underground foot tunnel, this was the beautiful sight that greeted me.
The early evening light enhanced the delicate blue and white palette of Wren’s buildings and they were a sight to behold. And it was this very scene, this very perspective that had inspired Canaletto to paint it sometime between 1750-52.
Before Wren’s buildings came up, this was the site of the Greenwich Palace of the House of Tudors. It’s most famous monarch, Henry VIII and his 2 daughters, Mary I and Elizabeth I, were born here. The palace fell into disrepair during the English Civil War in the mid-1600s, after which it was demolished and Wren’s buildings were built between 1696 and 1712. When Canaletto painted this scene, the two buildings housed the Royal Naval Hospital, which closed in 1869. Between 1873 and 1998, this was the Royal Naval College.Today, parts of these buildings are used by the University of Greenwich and the Trinity College of Music.
Isn’t my photograph and Canaletto’s painting similar? Little seems to have changed between 1752 and 2009 (when the photograph was taken). It feels a little strange and thrilling to know that I am seeing it almost as Canaletto saw it. I wonder whether it will still look the same 250 years from now.
What do you think?