Monday, April 05, 2010


Not so long ago we visited Stirling Castle, Scotland UK., to see a special and short time- limited exhibition of The Stirling Heads.  There were thirty-seven newly carved oak roundels.  The final one, it is said, was an extra head, and allowed craftsman's license, in that the carver  was allowed to use the face of his daughter.   The details on the dress, the epaulettes and the head-dress demonstrate that  she has been accorded high status.   The designs are all based on the details available from historical artefacts, some too fragile to replace on the ceiling in the Royal Apartments.

 These  heads include Margaret Tudor,  sister to Henry VIII of England,  the man himself,  and one head believed to be a copy of James V of Scotland.   Various other courtly characters, include dancing puttos and a jester or two.

If we wanted to see the heads in their raw wooden state, it was to be the only opportunity to do so. They are now in the process of being painted in the style the heads were known to have been originally finished.  The next time we see the replacement heads, will be with our necks craned back,  (not the best viewing position).

Included in future tours of the Castle will be an exhibition of the remaining original heads, there were, in all,  I believe, forty seven.  Some were found in private ownership.  The carver performed a labour of love for his self-taught craft and in the process learned old, but  not necessarily traditional methods of carving.   There were the errors of the past not to be repeated; the crude ability seen in some of the old work; then there was what seems to have been a remarkable discovery. The carver noticed a series of repeating symbols.  The greater the time he spent on his work, the more convinced he became that these symbols could be a form of music.  Consulting with a musicologist, it has become a distinct possibility that the theory is good.  The musical symbols and tones linked to them based on the instruments known to be in use in the period, have produced what might have been popular tunes of the day.

(Click on the pictures to enlarge)


Anonymous said...

they look fantastic!
it must have been a wonderful way to spend a day, the craftmanship is amazing.

ZACL said...


I found your comment before the notification arrived,; the systems aren't synchronising...must be the bouncing Easter Bunny!!

The roundels were amazing, we spent hours studying them. We thought we'd take in another tour of the Castle while we were there - guided tours are part of the very reasonable ticket price - however, we decided we wanted time with the craftsman's woodwork.

The Castle will stand for many more centuries, the new roundels with it, but not in their detailed wooden glory. We did enjoy the visit which included a wander into the workshop, which, on that day, housed an exhibition of the formation of the new heads and some of the tools that were made for the task and got worn out during the manufacture of the heads.

The amount of detail in each piece is stunning. What we don't know, is how much of that detail will be visible once the heads are in situ. It will certainly look very different.

If you haven't, do follow the link and read the pdf's; they're concise and nicely written.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for such an interesting, and informative, post!
I've been to Stirling a couple of times but never went round the castle.
I love looking at things like this wherever they're found and marvel at the craftsmen's handiwork, which is often so intricate. Looking behind the scenes in workshops is fascinating. Flighty xx

ZACL said...

Hi Mr F,

If you visit Stirling again, it would be well worth your while to visit the castle. Although you can hire an audio guide, there are regular personal guided tours which are well worth joining in. They are included in the entrance fee. We did a side trip, also guided, at no extra cost, to a refurbished old house called Argylle's Lodgings.We re-entered the castle, on our ticket, and returned to the carved roundels.

From a gardeners view point, there is a wonderful, well cared for, terraced cemetery around Stirling Castle. The view beats Windsor hands down!