Close up of dragon chandelier in the Banqueting Room.
George wanted to impress and amaze his guests, and this magnificent room still does that, nearly two centuries later. After the subdued Entrance Hall and the atmospheric but slender Long Gallery, walking into the Banqueting Room is like stepping into a new world. And this was exactly George’s intention. Spectacular and dramatic, the Banqueting Room is a lavish celebration of an imaginary China. Our eyes are drawn upwards, first to the magnificent chandelier, then to the carved, silvered dragon that clutches it in his claws, and finally to the canopy of plantain leaves above. If you look closely, you will see that there are three-dimensional carved leaves beneath the painted leaves. It’s another of George’s visual tricks, and adds to the illusion of depth.
Look around the room and you will see there are dragons everywhere, as well as Oriental figures and motifs continuing the Chinese theme. Red and gold dominate here today, but in George’s time, there was also lots of silver, which has been over-painted and covered with varnish, and has now discoloured. The overall effect would have been even more dazzling than it is now. The Banqueting Room was predominantly used at night, when it would have come alive with the flickering of oil lamps reflecting from the chandeliers and from all the gold and silver around the room. Imagine too the roaring fires in the large fireplaces at each end, and the flickering light from the line of four ornate lamps or torchères either side of the room.
The room was decorated in 1817 by Robert Jones. Though little is known of Jones’ work outside the Pavilion, he was clearly one of the finest and most versatile decorative artists of his day. He provided designs for every ornamental medium in the building – chandeliers, woodwork, marble chimney pieces, furniture, draperies, gilt bronze and painted mural decorations. He also included several Masonic symbols, and if you look carefully at the coved canopies above the fireplaces you’ll be able to find fabulous beasts, heavenly bodies and sun rays, all of which are discreet references to George’s involvement with the Freemasons.
George hosted sumptuous banquets here, often with dozens of courses. They went on for hours, after which guests would retire to one of the rooms leading on from the Banqueting Room to play cards, listen to music or dance.
We’ll be returning to the Banqueting Room shortly, to learn more about George’s elaborate dinners.
Anne Sowden, conservator:
‘We’re looking at the Banqueting Room central chandelier. And the chandelier is 30 feet long and it weighs one imperial ton. Starting at the top, directly underneath the domed plaster painted ceiling there are copper leaves. And then immediately below that you have this carved timber dragon. He himself is twelve feet long and even his tongue is carved from timber. When I say he’s silvered, I mean he’s covered in silver leaf and then he’s painted with red and green glazes to heighten the effect. And then beneath the dragon you have this amazing mirrored star, and that in effect is a downlighter because it reflects the light moving up from the chandelier bowl back down on to the table. The rest of the chandelier we can see these six carved and silvered dragons which appear to be exhaling these lotus lamps and the dragons themselves again are made of carved and silvered timber and they’re all original and the lamps that they hold are made of shaped and painted glass. Originally they would have been painted with carmine, which is a bright vivid pink, and green vein. So in fact the chandelier would have looked far richer than it does now. The chandelier itself is hung with 15,000 lustres and lustre is the name that we give to each one of those little crystal decorations that you can see on the chandelier. And originally the chandeliers were lit with rapeseed oil, in what were called Argand lamps. And these Argand lamps were cutting edge in lighting technology at the time and they couldn’t be rivalled for the amount of light that they gave, so much so that a commentator at the time described the effect in this room as ‘a diamond blaze’.’
From the late 17th century onwards, ambassadors and diplomats representing the Crown were given an allowance of silver and silver-gilt so they could entertain in style when they were representing the monarch overseas. In theory these perquisites – or ‘perks’ as we call them today – were supposed to be returned at the end of the ambassador’s period of office. But in practice this rarely happened and the silver, in particular, became their personal property.
Much of the silver gilt in the banqueting room comes from the grand ambassadorial service supplied by the Royal goldsmiths Rundell, Bridge and Rundell in July 1813 to Sir Charles Stewart, who was ambassador to Vienna.
Silver supplied to ambassadors was decorated with the royal coat of arms. The silver-gilt here has the arms of George III on one side and the arms of Baron Stewart on the other. This is unusual as the family arms were normally added only after the silver had become a family heirloom. In this case Lord Stewart had his arms cast and attached at the time the silver gilt was commissioned.