Trinity College Chapel, Oxford

Interior ceiling panels at Trinity College Chapel, Oxford

One of our most recent tasks is a survey and then carrying out the recommendations at Trinity College Chapel Oxford. Latest news; "At the annual 2016 Oxford Preservation Trust awards the restoration and conservation of Trinity College chapel was given the recognition of its peers with a joint winner in the top conservation category of 11 entrants. Described by the judges as a tour de force the work of the skilled conservationists won unanimous acclaim."

A comprehensive survey of the Berchet painted ceiling was commissioned by the College, as part of a total refurbishment of the paintings, plasterwork, Grinling Gibbons sculptures, organ, pews, stained glass and monuments.

looking up at the ceiling

The coved ceiling of the chapel is divided into numerous compartments which combine panels of exquisite plasterwork which has been painted and gilded. The main panel is a large central painting of the Ascension, set within an elaborate plasterwork frame depicting oak leaves. The main painting measures length 8.63 metres, width 3.80 metres. The four medallions each measure 0.54 m in diameter.

The rectangular painted panel at the west end of the chapel depicts two putti with symbols of the passion. The painting measures length 4.43 metres width 1.20 metres.

The panel at the east end depicts two putti carrying a wooden cross with a putto to the right holding further nails and a crown of thorns, there is a further putto to the left peering from amongst the clouds. The painting measures length 4.47 metres, width 1.20 metres.

The survey has established that the ceiling, plaster support and painting are all structurally sound and in a stable condition. There have been two major previous restorations with widespread over painting and also repairs and filling to damaged areas of the plaster. The paint analysis proved extremely useful revealing the extent of the repainting and also determining the reasons. Cleaning trials carried out showed that it would be extremely difficult to remove the darkened varnish layer without removing all of the repainting and previous varnish.

From the paint analysis it is probable that due to the smalt blue pigment used by Berchet, the original blue sky would not become visible if the repainting was removed as it has already discoloured, therefore widespread repainting would have to be carried out to replace areas removed. As a result of the cleaning trials it was shown to be possible to remove the surface dirt and soot, giving the painting a brighter appearance, but leaving the highly reflective sheen of the varnish.

Current conservation philosophy as approached by Historic England and Historic Royal Palaces, is to preserve wall paintings with the minimum of treatment and to create a permanent archive of information to enable future conservators to be fully informed (technically and art historically) when dealing with related conservation issues. The value and significant of Berchetís painting warrant a similar responsible approach. A brighter appearance can still be achieved by cleaning the surface of the paintings without removing the varnish/repainted areas, but this will leave the reflective varnish. This could be minimised by the application of a reversible matt varnish which will reduce the reflective surface.

The programme of work involved surveying and then treating all panels.

The Chapel was reopened in April 2016 with the Granville and Burbidge's work completed on time and on budget and later the whole project winning an award. "At the annual 2016 Oxford Preservation Trust awards the restoration and conservation of Trinity College chapel was given the recognition of its peers with a joint winner in the top conservation category of 11 entrants. Described by the judges as a tour de force the work of the skilled conservationists won unanimous acclaim."

In pictures

Overall view (2)

west panel

West panel

east panel

East panel