King Henry VIII’s astronomical clock returns home to Hampton Court Palace as countdown to his 500th anniversary celebrations commences
Today (23rd April 2008) Hampton Court Palace started the one-year countdown to the 500th anniversary celebrations of Henry VIII’s accession by reinstating the King’s famous astronomical clock, 499 years and one day after Henry took the throne. The return of the famous clock, following 8-months of research and conservation work, is the first of a series of projects at the palace planned for completion in time for 2009’s historic celebrations.
Henry VIII commissioned the Great Astronomical Clock for the central courtyard of Hampton Court Palace around 1540 and today it is one of the most significant late-medieval clocks in existence. It consisted of three elaborately painted and gilded copper dials set in a decorative stone frame, powered by a mathematically complex gearing mechanism.
Having been exposed to almost 500 years of wind and rain the dials have been painted and re-gilded many times over the centuries. However, conservation treatment revealed previously undiscovered traces of the vivid blue pigment azurite (which fell out of use around 1700) on the iron armatures of several dials. This was a colour favoured by Henry, who lavished the ceilings of Hampton Court’s Great Hall and Chapel Royal with azurite pigmented paint, the find has confirmed for our curators how spectacularly colourful many of the Tudor palace interiors and exteriors were in Henry’s day.
The dials were last painted in 1960, following a Victorian pattern, probably based on traces of earlier historic schemes. Investigations revealed that the paintwork was beautifully detailed, but after 47 years of exposure to the elements was suffering from flaking and fading, including nearly complete loss of red paint. Conservators have retained this existing scheme, but restored its original vivid character, in keeping with Henry’s dramatic aesthetics, repainting the faded blue and red colours and cleaning and retouching the gilded symbols and astrological figures.
With the astronomical clock once again back home, the 364 day countdown to the 2009 accession anniversary has begun at King Henry’s most famous former residence. A complete representation of his Tudor palace is planned over forthcoming months that promises to bring the story of the King, his family and his Royal court to life for visitors in a way never before explored at Hampton Court Palace.