Sheldonian Theatre: Redecoration

The Sheldonian Theatre completed in 1669, was the first important commission of the young Sir Christopher Wren and was designed as the principal assembly room of the University; and remains so, to this day.

The building was also originally designed to accommodate the University Press although they subsequently relocated to the neighbouring Clarendon Building in 1713.  Grade 1 listed, the theatre is one of Oxford's best known landmarks.

The theatre was last decorated in 1961-63, but has recently been redecorated in Wren's original colour scheme; the first time this has been seen since the 1720s.  Before embarking on this work, the University commissioned research into the history of the paintwork, which revealed that the 'Sienna and Statuary  faux-marbling' scheme prior to 2010 was entirely the work of the eighteenth, nineteenth and mid-twentieth-century restorers.

The 'Cedar' and 'Stone' paint colours and 'Rouge de Rance'  faux-marbling to the columns of the original Wren scheme, (which are indicated on the left half of the image above), were determined from archive information and from detailed paint analysis carried out by the Crick Smith Institute for the Research & Conservation of Historic Decoration at the University of Lincoln.

The organ housing, which was designed by Sir Thomas Jackson in 1877 to house the theatre's third organ (installed by Henry Willis in 1858), has not been repainted during the latest redecoration works, so remains in its 'Dark Oyster' paint and gilded finish, from the 1960s campaign.

Further information is available in the Crick Smith Paint Research Report (4,939kb)

The left half of the above image also shows the result after removal of the 1960s lighting, the chandeliers, wall sconces, balcony candelabras and pendant fittings having been replaced with discreet uplighters, recessed within the window boards to provide uninterrupted views of the central performance area and of the ceiling paintings.

Published August 2014