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.

P1020300 Carver's Daughter

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.

P1020287 Henry V111P1020286 Mgt Tudor perhapsP1020282 Jester

If we wanted to see the heads in their raw wooden state, this visit was to be the only opportunity to do so. The heads 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 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.


0 thoughts on “THE STIRLING HEADS

  1. These heads were a laboriously carved by hand, see last paragraph. Tools were made by the woodcarver to suit particular types of work. Other modern woodcarving tools that were appropriate to the task were purchased, some no doubt, being modified. Authenticity was paramount. In the exhibition, we saw one set of woodworking tools, also a mallet, one of many that the craftsman had worked to shreds.

    If you click on the link in the post, (in blue second line, ‘The Stirling Heads’. The link changes to red as you hover over it)it will take you to a page where you will see three more links on the page, PDF’s,(= portable data files) which are concise, clearly and well written. Click on those PDF titles one at a time. It won’t take long to read the information. You’ll see more of the background there and some of it will surprise you.

  2. It was an interesting and informative day out, one which we will talk abut for some time to come. We have seen the ‘before’, then most recently, ‘the interim’ and all being well, we will make the long trek to see the final result.

  3. You are absolutely right Lilian. A commission like this one, is probably best given to a natural crafts-person. I think that belief has been borne out. :yes:

  4. I remember a day out there about 3 years ago when I spent a fascinating hour listening to the craftswoman who was weaving part of the reproduction tapestries. It was a real treat to watch an expert at work.

    I can’t see your images as I have this ongoing problem with images on the de6 image server. Which is very annoying!

  5. What a shame you can’t see the images of the heads…is it the format?

    I was at Stirling about 3 years ago as well, and spent a lot of time with the tapestry weavers too. Their workshop is still ongoing and open to visit. I didn’t do that this trip.

    The tapestry work was put out to tender and the group that won the tender come from Surrey. I was a little sad for all the highly skilled Scottish tapestry groups, a number of whom would have been within reach of Stirling. Cheapest doesn’t mean best. I admit though, what I saw was good.

  6. Hello LLLC,

    I am not so sure this was a rediscovery of a craft. It was, I think, more an addition and adaptation to modern day skills. Methods were certainly adapted, as were tools. The working of something like one head, once you have the right wood material – authenticity being everything – is labour and time intensive. If I recall correctly, the carving of all 37 heads took 5 years.

    It was really great to see the exhibition, browse, take time, almost interact with the concept. The staff, who multi-task,that is, punch your ticket, act as custodians and as excellent guides as well, were on hand to talk to about the heads.

Thanks for visiting me. Please share your thoughts and ideas. Comment here.

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