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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 Renaissance style.

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 world.

“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 state.”

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 at

Further Information

For pictures
  • 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 or on 07856 222103 or by contacting Laura Cheyne on 0131 668 8952 or emailing    
  • 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:

Password is: STIRLING-PRESS-12022010

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 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 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

Matthew Shelley
0131 668 8734