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Crowning Glory for Stirling Castle

29 September 2011

A new, hand-woven tapestry depicting the Unicorn at Bay has been unveiled in  the recently opened James V Palace at Stirling Castle.

The display of the tapestry also marks a funding milestone for the charitable foundation that made the project possible.

The 3.3m by  3.8m tapestry is the fifth in the series of seven to be specially commissioned to hang in the newly opened attraction within Stirling Castle.

The designs are based on a collection of original  16th century Flemish tapestries titled The Hunt of the Unicorn held in the Cloisters Museum at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York as research has shown that the Scottish royal collection also included a series depicting ‘the historie of the unicorne’.

Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop said:

“The first thing that strikes you when you look at these beautiful tapestries is the incredible detail  that the weavers have put  into each of them. Each design is a story in itself filled with symbolism on many different levels to be deciphered by anyone looking on them.

“The Royal Apartments reflect a time when Scotland put itself at the heart of Europe with King James taking influences from across the continent and incorporating them into the building, sculpture, and furnishings  of his new Palace.

“These tapestries are a highlight of any visit and it is wonderful that we are able to add yet another work of art to the collection at Stirling and allow a completely new audience to see them.”

The Qunique Foundation, a United States charity, has provided annual donations through the Historic Scotland Foundation to the tapestry project, which is due to be completed in 2013.

The Historic Scotland Foundation – the independent Scottish charity established to support the work of Historic Scotland – also received donations from other sources to reach the milestone £1m mark. It will continue to fund the project until completion with future donations expected to exceed £450,000 over the next two years, bringing the total cost of the tapestry project to around £2m.

Kenneth MacKenzie, Chairman of the Historic Scotland Foundation said: “I am delighted that we have reached this major landmark in the funding of this exciting project. The magnificent work which has gone into the project so far has been of the very highest quality and has helped to preserve and encourage traditional weaving skills over the duration of the project’s 13 year lifespan.

“We have only been able to achieve this thanks to the very generous support of The Quinque Foundation  and donations from other enthusiastic supporters of the project.

“Our aim now is to seek further funding for this and other projects across Historic Scotland’s  properties to enable people of all ages to better appreciate and enjoy Scotland’s rich history.”

The Unicorn at Bay tapestry shows the huntsmen and their hounds  surrounding the mythical creature and is intricately detailed.

Like the four previously completed works that already hang in the Queen’s Inner Hall, it is a breathtaking display of the skills of the weavers from West Dean Studio.

The tapestries are being woven by West Dean Tapestry Studio in a specially created studio at Stirling Castle and at the West Dean studio in West Sussex.

Louise Martin, Senior Weaver at Stirling Castle, said: “This is a very special moment for the project We started weaving the first tapestry in 2001, so the completion of the Unicorn at Bay represents the climax of a decade of weaving.

“What’s so wonderful about the Palace is that it allows visitors to step back in time and see what a Scottish royal palace was like in its heyday, when the tapestries, furnishings, furniture and decorations were colourful and new.”

Notes for editors:
  • The Historic Scotland Foundation is a registered Scottish charity (SC032044) established in 2011 to support the work of Historic Scotland in maintaining, preserving and enhancing Scotland’s built, historic and national heritage. It is independent of Historic Scotland and exists to fund or support projects which Historic Scotland could not otherwise carry out or complete from its own resources.

  • The Quinque Foundation is a grant-making charitable foundation based in the USA. Helen Buchanan, trustee of the foundation, has played a key role in the Stirling Tapestry Project. She was the first Patron of the Historic Scotland Foundation in recognition of her involvement in the project and was awarded the OBE in 2006 for services to the community. In 2010 she was shortlisted for the Prince of Wales Medal for Arts Philanthropy.

  • The Stirling Tapestries are based on the Renaissance originals which currently hang in the Cloisters Gallery of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and are being woven entirely by hand, faithful to the original designs and wool colour.

  • For all the latest on what is happening at Stirling Castle, visit our website at and sign up for our free e-newsletter.

  • 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 information

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