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The Quinquennial: Detailed Wall Paintings Survey Takes Place

Have you heard of a quinquennial? 

It’s a Latin term meaning ‘happening every five years’. We undertake a vast survey of all the wall paintings in the Palace of Westminster every five years, most recently in February 2023, and we call it the quinquennial.

Two people with their backs to us, standing up close and looking at a large painting. On the left, an adult white woman with short dark curly hair is wearing a black sweatshirt and blue trousers. In her left hand she holds a small black torch, and her right arm is an open laptop. On the right, an adult white man with short dark curly hair is holding up a small black torch with his right hand. He is wearing a black sweatshirt with white embroidered ‘OPUS’ on the sleeve, and dark blue jeans. The light cast from their torches is stretching across the painting in front of them, creating lines of light. They are stood in front of a large, colourful painting depicting many figures wearing cloaks and ornate outfits. The painting has many bright blues, greens and reds. The painting, of which we can see the bottom left corner, is covered with glazing, evident due to the reflection of gothic style windows which feature a diamond shape pattern and decorative outline. The painting itself is set into a stone wall recess. Underneath the painting is a large built-in banner of text which can’t be read due to the people stood in front of it.
Conservators assessing a wall painting in the East Corridor. Image: UK Parliament / Fleur Elkerton

Specialist wall painting conservators conduct detailed inspections of the large-scale wall paintings found in the Palace. There are 80 in total, and the survey takes 3 weeks. Some of the wall paintings are easier to access than others, so we work carefully with colleagues across Parliament to ensure we can get close to the artworks safely.  

Here, conservators Lizzie and Sam (Opus Conservation) are assessing the painted surface of an artwork using raking torch light. They are also looking at the data collected 5 years ago to see if the condition of the painting is changing. Undertaking the survey on this regular basis means we can track the condition of artworks over time. This can assure us that these important works of art are stable and in good condition, and show us any steps we can take to care for them, ensuring they remain looking their best long into the future.   

The 2023 Quinquennial

This year, post-graduate wall painting and easel painting students from the Courtauld Institute of Art visited us to learn about the quinquennial, and the wall paintings collection we hold. We also worked closely with colleagues in the Restoration & Renewal conservation team, who were able to shadow and support the work taking place.  

Further making the most of this access and opportunity, we conducted some ‘microscopy’ of the artworks where they sit in the Palace. This technique allows us to zoom in to tiny details, helping us to learn more about the way the painting was made, the materials used, and better understand any damage we see. It can also help us to plan the best methods of caring for the works into the future. 

Two people with their back to us look at an open laptop, while in front of a very large painting. To the left, a white adult woman with short dark hair, blue and yellow scarf and block top is holding up the laptop with her right hand. To her right, an adult white man with short dark hair and glasses reaches a hand towards the laptop screen. The screen shows a black and white photograph of a detail of a painting, with blue areas highlighted. The people are stood in front of a very large painting. The painting is glazed, and there are reflections of window and lights.
Conservators assessing a wall painting in the East Corridor. Image UK Parliament / Fleur Elkerton

Here, conservators are looking at paintings in East Corridor, which connects to Central Lobby. This corridor contains six artworks that depict Tudor history. The artworks were specially commissioned for Parliament and have been in the East Corridor since 1910. 

Two of these artworks, Latimer preaching before Edward VI at Paul’s Cross, 1548 by Ernest Board and Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon before Papal Legates at Blackfriars,1529, by Frank O. Salisbury have recently been given conservation treatments, and they will soon be newly glazed. Among other outcomes, the quinquennial this year will help us to determine what treatment the other four artworks in this corridor may need.

Read about the role of Caroline, our Collections Conservation Manager.

March 17, 2023