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Stirling Heads together at Castle for first time in more than 200 years

2 June 2011

Stirling Heads together at Castle for first time in more than 200 years

Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop today unveiled the new gallery that will display the original collection of Renaissance sculptures known as the Stirling Heads.

Ahead of the opening of the refurbished Royal Palace accommodation at Stirling Castle on Saturday June 4, Ms Hyslop revealed the new climate-controlled exhibition gallery.

On one of her first engagements since being appointed Cabinet Secretary, Ms Hyslop said:

“This is a wonderful and unique collection.  The Stirling Heads have not been on display together since the ceiling onto which they were mounted was brought down in 1777 when the Castle served as a barracks. The re-creation of the Palace includes replica painted Heads which themselves are a marvel to look at, but it is also a real coup to showcase the three original Heads in their original home.

“I have had the opportunity to see this £12m project to re-create the Royal apartments within Stirling Castle as it has progressed, and I am thrilled that we are just days away from opening it to the public and the celebrations to mark the public opening.

“Potential visitors can also get a sneak preview of the “Castle Experience” by trying out the 3D fly-through of the Castle which uses innovative laser scanning technology produced in partnership between Historic Scotland and Glasgow School of Art’s Digital Design Studio.”

The Stirling Heads are large oak medallions – or roundels – hand carved by skilled craftsmen who created vivid images of classical heroes, kings, queens, courtiers and even imps.

A total of 34 Heads, some a metre across, have survived the centuries since their creation sometime after 1530. Many originally decorated the ceiling of the King’s Inner Hall at the heart of the Royal Palace and there is nothing quite like them anywhere else in the world.

Historic Scotland has 31 of the Heads in its care, and three original Heads from the National Museums of Scotland have now joined them in the new gallery.

The Cabinet Secretary added:

“The gallery is a modern space within the historic core of the Castle dedicated to showing the surviving Heads and explaining the significance they held. Throughout the Palace you see reflections of the international relationships and parallels with which James V wanted to be associated, and these Heads really exemplify that.

“New interactive displays allow visitors to use touch screens to find out more about the individual designs and even create their own colour palate for the Heads.

“The new gallery will allow also modern visitors to appreciate the intricacy of the Heads in much closer detail than any of James V’s courtiers could have enjoyed.”

Historic Scotland and the Glasgow School of Art’s Digital Design Studio, who together created the digital animation of Stirling Castle, have formed the Centre for Digital Documentation and Visualisation to carry out the “Scottish 10” project.

This is a £5m five-year project to laser-scan Scotland’s five World Heritage Sites (WHS) – the Neolithic Heart of Orkney, the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh, New Lanark, and the Antonine Wall as part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire WHS, and St Kilda – and five international sites.

The “Scottish 10” team has already recorded Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, USA and will be flying to the Rani Ki Vav stepwell in Gujarat, India, later in the year to record it.

It has been agreed that a site in China and one in Japan will be part of the project but these have not been identified as yet.

The last international site has yet to be decided.

Notes to Editors

  • Historic Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government charged with safeguarding the nation’s historic environment. The agency is fully accountable to Scottish Ministers and through them to the Scottish Parliament. For more information visit  

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  • Stirling Castle is at the top of Stirling Old Town off the M9 at junction 9 or 10. Call 01786 450000

  • Historic Scotland has 345 historic properties and sites in its care. These include some of the leading tourism attractions in the country, including Edinburgh, Stirling, and Urquhart Castles, Fort George, Linlithgow Palace, the Border Abbeys, and Skara Brae. For further details visit:

  • Historic Scotland’s mission is to safeguard Scotland’s historic environment and to promote its understanding and enjoyment.

For further information

Lesley Brown
Communications and Media Officer
Communications and Media
0131 668 8603 or 07920 768096