Banqueting House review
I have a theory that you can gauge the age of a person solely by the kind of artwork they like. It's a bit like counting the rings on a tree trunk. When you're a kid you like cartoons and comics, and when you're a teenager (or a hoodlum) you enjoy ankle tattoos and spray painting your name on the side of someone's house. When you reach university it's all about modern art and Jackson Pollock, and then ten years later it's classical art and landscapes. That's the stage of life I am at right now -- the adult phase. The phase that happily pays ten quid just to see a Rubens on the roof.
When you take up watercolour painting on a deckchair in your garden, that's when you know you have entered the final phase of life -- the one where you slowly run out of colours. You sit there in the sun squeezing every last drop of paint out of your dried-up toothpaste tube of flaking paint. Then you're dead.
Banqueting House contains the greatest work of art in London -- bar none. But it's biggest claim to fame is probably what happened outside in the street, because this is where Parliament chopped off the head of Charles I after the English Civil War.
I know we're supposed to be too civilised for the death penalty these days, but if it was up to me I would bring it back tomorrow, otherwise history is going to suffer. Imagine if, instead of having his head chopped off outside Banqueting House, Charles was just impeached and stripped of his title after an in-camera court case. Or instead of chopping off the head of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII was just granted a quickie divorce in Southwark Crown Court. William Wallace wouldn't have been sliced up in Smithfield these days -- he would probably have settled for a sixty grand a year seat in the Scottish Parliament. Let's be honest; let me be blunt: Royal history ended with the abdication. Elizabeth II is probably the first monarch we've ever had who hasn't done a single thing worth writing about. Whereas all our other monarchs had wars and laws and religious persecution to keep them busy, the most exciting thing that's happened to Liz was a curtain fire at Windsor Castle.
But let's not get too depressed about it, because we still have plenty of great history to visit in London; and Banqueting House is one of the best, because this is where Charles spent his final five minutes on planet Earth. Imagine him pacing up and down and praying, and gathering his thoughts as the crowd waited and baited and bayed him in the street outside. What we now call 'Whitehall' looked a lot different in those days, because Whitehall Palace was still standing and most of its buildings were made of wood. Banqueting House rose above the lot in shining stone, and if you look at some old paintings of the palace and the park beyond, then you can usually see its shoulders poking above the rooftops.
I wish they would make more of an effort to tell its story, though, because despite the incredible history of the place, you're only really here to see the Rubens on the roof. They've got one little display case downstairs, but practically all of the history is told on a TV and headphones -- it's such a wasted opportunity. They should describe its history like a museum does: using a collection of historical objects and documents and paintings. As soon as you hand over your money they plonk you down in some wooden school seats to watch a documentary. I actually refuse to watch it now, just out of principal (and also because I've seen it three times already) -- I'm not paying ten quid just to watch the bleedin' telly! But happily things improve greatly when you head upstairs and step into the hall.
The ceiling really is impressive. And I say that as a middle-aged bloke who has no particular interest in art. So if I find it impressive then you I'm pretty sure that you will, too. It's basically just a double-story hall with a big red canopy throne at the end. That's all it is. There is nothing else inside it (apart from the chandeliers), so you are here to see the Rubens on the roof, and that's all.
Staring up at the painting doesn't half do your neck in, though. You'll be looking up at the ceiling for so long that your bones will fuse into position. Luckily they've placed some mirrored tables on the floor so you can look up by looking down (if you see what I mean). And they've also got a few beanie bags around so you can lie down and listen to the audioguide -- but I'm too old to sit on those things. If I sat on one of those cushions then I'd never be able to get back up again.
Guest – A great vidi,I love your posts forthright and honest, keep up the good work Regards, Carole Waterer
I’ve been here before…
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