A grand set of stairs, decorated by William Hogarth, in the historic part of Barts Hospital are to be restored, thanks to a £4.9 million grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Photo (c) Matthew Andrews

The Grade I listed North Wing was built in 1730-32 to house the financial and management functions of the hospital, with patient care provided in the other wings of the hospital, as it still is today.

Funded entirely by donations, the hospital created a series of grand rooms to entertain donors and officials. Part of that included an impressive staircase, which the hospital Governors wanted to have decorated.

Having been born in nearby Bartholomew Close, which until recent redevelopment had contained many of the medical school buildings, Hogarth was incensed to discover that Italian painter, Jacopo Amigoni, had been approached to provide the artwork for the staircase. Hogarth then offered his services free of charge, and set about creating these unique paintings. Hogarth had never before attempted anything of this scale, and his biblical scenes include sympathetic portraits of people suffering from disease and injury, drawn from the real life.

What is now known as the Hogarth Stair is decorated with canvases painted by William Hogarth depicting two Biblical stories – The Pool of Bethesda and The Good Samaritan – featuring figures approximately seven feet high.

Hogarth’s paintings encapsulate the ideals of care and healing on which the Hospital was founded. The characters portrayed in the Pool of Bethesda are thought to be patients from the hospital, many of whose conditions are recognisable to the trained eye, and the painting is still used as an educational tool today, including by Barts anaesthetists as a means to encourage empathy.

Both the Hogarth canvasses are in reasonable condition, however, specialist cleaning and conservation are required in order to remedy structural issues caused by the wooden ‘stretcher’ framework behind.

Photo (c) Matthew Andrews

The stair hall itself will undergo extensive work to restore it to its former glory such as repairing and strengthening the timber staircase and conserving the magnificent 18th century chandelier.

There will also provide an opportunity for public access during the works.

Will Palin, CEO of Barts Heritage said: “The Hogarth Stair is a genuine ‘hidden treasure’ and is just one element of our ambitious project combining the much-needed restoration of the one of the most important historic hospital buildings in the UK with a pioneering heritage and health programme. We are thrilled to have secured this transformative grant from the Heritage Fund and look forward to welcoming the public both during restoration works and after the project is complete. We would like to thank National Lottery players for helping to make our vision a reality on the 900th anniversary of St Bartholomew’s Hospital.”

Photo (c) Matthew Andrews

The restoration is part of a wider project to open up the North Wing to the public.


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