One and only chance to view the magnificant new Stirling Heads
13 February 2010
A one-off exhibition giving a close-up view of the 37 replica Stirling Heads which
will be used to recreate a lost Renaissance royal palace ceiling has been welcomed by Fiona Hyslop,
Minister for Culture and External Affairs.
It is also the only time when visitors will be able to see the beautifully hand-carved,
metre-wide oak medallions in their natural state before they are painted in bright colours – in authentic
The new heads are copies of magnificent 16th-century originals, and are a key part
of Historic Scotland’s £12 million project to return the royal palace inside Stirling Castle to how
it may have looked in its prime.
The originals once adorned the ceiling of the King’s Inner Hall and are of such
artistic importance they are sometimes called Scotland’s other crown jewels. Sadly the ceiling had collapsed
by the end of the 18th century, but many of the heads were kept safe.
The replicas are exquisitely detailed and beautiful copies of the survivors, and
took five years to complete.
The Minister said: “The project to return the royal palace to its Renaissance glory
will provide Stirling, and Scotland, with a fantastic new attraction which will draw visitors from around
“The recreation of the long-lost ceiling of the King’s Inner Hall, which was famous
for its wonderful carved heads, will be a very important part of what visitors experience.
“This exhibition is a celebration of some of the superb craftsmanship going into
the project and gives people the chance to get a real close-up view of the replica heads in their natural
The exhibition takes place from 13 to 21 February and is the centrepiece of Stirling
Castle’s Carving Month.
It will be the first time all the replicas being used to recreate the ceiling of
the King’s Inner Hall will have been seen together.
They include images of the Scottish royal family, such as James V who built the
palace and had the originals made, great noblemen and women, Roman emperors and Classical heroes.
The new versions will be exhibited in the castle’s Great Hall and laid out in the
same order as they will be seen on the ceiling.
The King’s Inner Hall was among the most impressive in the palace as it was designed
to be where subjects would meet their monarch – and it would have been decorated and furnished to fill
them with awe.
Paint flecks from the original heads shows that they were painted.
Peter Buchanan, Stirling Castle Palace Project Manager, said: “The palace will give
visitors an authentic taste of what the Scottish Renaissance royal palace was like – rich with colour,
sumptuously decorated and finely furnished.
“The ceiling of the King’s Inner Hall will provide a real ‘wow’ factor.
“But before the new heads are attached to the ceiling we wanted people to have the
chance to see the workmanship that has gone into carving them.”
The exhibition will also mark the unveiling of the one head which is not a copy
of an original.
This was made because there are 37 spaces on the ceiling but evidence only survives
for 36 original designs.
The last was inspired by carving on the outside of the palace, but it probably brought
Livingston craftsman John Donaldson closer than anyone has been in 450 years to the experience of the
men who made the originals.
While we do not know which heads went where on the original King’s Inner Hall ceiling,
expert research by Glasgow University art historian Dr Sally Rush has provided an arrangement that would
feel very familiar to a 16th-century courtier.
Dr Rush has also carried out extensive research into the possible identities of
some of the characters depicted in the surviving Stirling Heads.
● See footage of the new heads being carved on the Historic Scotland YouTube channel
- Photographs of the heads on display in the Great Hall will be circulated
to the media or are available on request from Rob McDougall at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07856 222103
or by contacting Laura Cheyne on 0131 668 8952 or emailing email@example.com.
- Additional pictures of the palace, including artists’ impressions of some of the completed
halls, and of individual Stirling Heads are available from Historic Scotland to download for free. Follow
the link below then key in the username and password:
Notes for editors:
- The Carving Month also includes the chance to hear John Donaldson talk about
his work, and demonstrate his craft, at 11.00 and 14.00 on the weekends of February 13-14, 20-21 and
27-28. There is an exhibition about the making of the replicas in the Nether Bailey.
- The talks and exhibitions are included in the standard ticket price for the castle.
- Several additional replica heads commissioned by Historic Scotland will remain unpainted
and one will be on display.
- A gallery is being created on the first floor of the palace where the original Stirling
Heads will be on public display together for the first time.
- It is now thought that more than one palace ceiling was decorated with heads and the survivors
are from at least two of them.
- The palace and gallery will open to the public in 2011 and will offer visitors a wonderful
opportunity to step back in time and sample life at the Renaissance Scottish royal court.
- For all the latest on the palace project, and everything else that happening at Stirling
Castle, visit our website at www.stirlingcastle.gov.uk and sign up for our free e-newsletter.
- Stirling Castle is at the top of Stirling Old Town off the M9 at junction 9 or 10. Call
- 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: www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/places.
- Historic Scotland’s Mission is to safeguard Scotland’s historic environment and to promote
its understanding and enjoyment.