The Italian terraces are suffering the elements but are still an amazing way to start to understand the sheer scale of the Crystal Palace. The upper and lower terraces are connected by flights of steps each of which was flanked by a pair of sphinxes. These are among the few remnants that survived after the fire of 30th November 1936 which destroyed the Crystal Palace.
Walk along the grass bank on the Upper Terrace for an amazing view over Kent. You can see the Dartford Crossing on a clear day as well as the rolling hills.
The sphinxes are faithful copies of an original red granite sphinx which is over 2000 years old in the Louvre Museum, Paris. The sphinxes were constructed using hollow brick cores with a rendered finish. Owen Jones was responsible for the painting of the sculptures, and would have been aware of the Egyptian’ use of red ochre to color the sphinxes.
As part of the recent investigative work, samples of paint finishes were carefully removed from the sphinxes and analysed. Six different paint layers were found, all with lead content thus dating them to before 1940. The results show that the render was primed with a tin coast of red ochre mixed with a very little red lead, and then a coating of terracotta colored paint was added.
Additionally, historic research, carried out in partnership with the Crystal Palace Museum, found evidence of this kind of painting from historic photographs.
As well as there being historical evidence that the sphinxes should be painted red there is a conservation requirement for the render to be coated to bridge micro-fractures and ensure long-term durability. Specialist mineral pants were mixed and used to match exactly the original paint colouring and was applied in three coats.