Coronation Chair prepared for historic role
Wednesday, 1st March 2023
The Coronation Chair, one of the most precious and famous pieces of furniture in the world, which has been the centrepiece of coronations for over 700 years, is undergoing conservation work before the Coronation of Their Majesties The King and The Queen Consort on Saturday 6th May at Westminster Abbey.
The work being undertaken by the Abbey’s paintings conservator, Krista Blessley, focuses on cleaning the chair and stabilising the gilding.
History and decoration
HM The King will be crowned in the Coronation Chair, as monarchs have been before him, including Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and Elizabeth II in 1953. Made in about 1300, the Chair was commissioned by Edward I to house the Stone of Scone, also known as the Stone of Destiny, the stone brought from Scotland in 1296, which was the throne for Scottish kings for hundreds of years.
The Chair is made of oak and was originally covered in gold leaf gilding, and elaborately decorated with coloured glass. It is known to be have been painted by Walter, the King’s Master Painter who decorated it with patterns of birds, foliage and a king. It would have looked to the medieval eye as if it was made of solid gold, and been a glittering spectacle in the holy ceremony.
The Chair’s gilding is decorated with intricate tiny dots, known as punchwork, which create exquisite images and patterns. This work is of the highest quality and is unparalleled in surviving medieval art in the British Isles. The base, an 18th century replacement, is also gilded and has a lion at each corner.
Given its age and use, the Chair is in remarkable condition and much of the original gilding survives. It has suffered occasionally over its lifetime, there is graffiti on the back from local schoolboys and visitors carving their names in the 18th and 19th centuries, and a bomb attack in 1914 knocked a small corner off it.
Conservation work will concentrate on surface cleaning using sponges and cotton swabs to gently remove ingrained dirt, and delicately stabilising surviving layers of gilding on both the medieval chair and Georgian base.
The completed work will be entirely invisible but will ensure the preservation of these historic decorative layers not just for the Coronation but for centuries to come.
Visitors to the Abbey will be able to see the conservation work taking place on selected days in St George’s Chapel, located in the Abbey’s Nave.
More about coronations
The Abbey is the coronation church - 39 reigning monarchs have been crowned here since 1066. Discover more about the history of coronations at the Abbey and find out about upcoming events.
Photo courtesy: PA Wire/PA Images