Scottish Renaissance painted ceilings

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The 17th-century painted ceiling at Aberdour Castle, Fife

Scottish Renaissance painted ceilings are decorated ceilings in Scottish houses and castles built between 1540 and 1640. This is a distinctive national style, though there is common ground with similar work elsewhere, especially in France, Spain and Scandinavia.[1] An example in England, at Wickham, Hampshire, was recorded in 1974.[2]

Most surviving examples are painted simply on the boards and joists forming the floor of the room above. Rooms or galleries in attic storeys were fully lined with thin pine boarding and painted. The fashion was superseded by decorative plasterwork and sometimes the painted ceilings were broken up to form lathing for the new plaster.

Paint and painters

Ceiling with cherub's heads and an Imperial eagle and thistle motif at Riddle's Court

The paint used employed protein size with chalk and pigments, including natural ochres, vermilion, and orpiment often mixed with indigo to form vibrant greens.[3] The pine timber was imported from Norway. The names of many painters have been found in contemporary records, but as yet no painter of any particular surviving ceiling has been identified through archival research. However, it is recorded that in 1554, Edinburgh painters led by Walter Binning assaulted an outsider, David Warkman, who had been painting a ceiling.[4] The Warkman family were settled at Burntisland in Fife the 1590s.[5] The Skelmorlie Aisle at Largs was signed by John Stalker, and initials "IM" painted at Delgatie Castle may be those of the painter John Mellin or Melville.[6] It appears that only the wealthiest of the merchant classes and aristocrats could afford this decoration, though the picture is unbalanced as more modest interiors do not survive.

Types of patterns

The largest group of these ceilings have patterns of fruit and flowers, and may perhaps have evoked tapestry borders. Some ceilings in galleries at the top of buildings incorporated vignettes with biblical or emblematic scenes. Others employ Renaissance grotesque ornament including symbolic emblems. A gallery in a demolished building on Edinburgh's Castlehill had scenes of the Apocalypse and Christ asleep in a storm, set in the Firth of Forth, with a backdrop of the Edinburgh Royal Mile skyline viewed from Fife.[7] Fragments survive in storage at the National Museums of Scotland.[8] Ceilings painted with rows of heraldic shields included; the gallery at Earlshall Castle and Collairnie Castle, Fife, a ceiling at Linlithgow High Street,[9] and Nunraw House, East Lothian.

Death bed scene from the ceiling of St. Mary's, Grandtully

Several surviving examples can be seen in Edinburgh; including John Knox's House, Gladstone's Land, and the Canongate Tolbooth museum. The birthroom at Edinburgh Castle was painted by James Anderson to commemorate the fiftieth birthday of James VI, and restored by Walter Melville in 1693.[10] Gladstone's Land dating from 1619 also has relatively well preserved decoration on plaster contemporary with the ceiling. More extensive domestic mural painting survives at Kinneil House, dating from the 1550s, and painted for the Regent Arran, who employed Walter Binning on some of his projects.[11] Aberdour Castle, Fife, has one of latest ceilings c.1633, and Huntingtower Castle the earliest c.1540. Ceilings at Crathes Castle are decorated with the Nine Worthies and the Muses. As at Crathes, beams at Traquair House and Sailor's Walk, Kirkcaldy, carry proverbial and biblical admonitions, written in Middle Scots. A gallery at Provost Skene's House, Aberdeen, is similar in format to the Castlehill painting,[12] St. Mary's, Grandtully, and the Skelmorlie Aisle at Largs, two examples in churches, are painted on the thin lining boards of wooden barrel vaults. Culross Palace, built by Sir George Bruce of Carnock, has a variety of painted interiors including suites of emblems, geometric patterns and biblical scenes.[13]

Other ceilings remain in private buildings, and a number of ceilings were salvaged and stored by Historic Scotland including two from Dysart, Fife. The National Museum of Scotland displays a ceiling from Rossend Castle Burntisland, Fife,[14] and a screen from Wester Livilands, near Stirling.[15] Stirling Smith Museum and Art Gallery has a ceiling from Robert Drummond of Carnock's house. A room from Alexander Seton, 1st Earl of Dunfermline's Pinkie House is displayed at Edinburgh's Huntly House Museum. Painted beams from Midhope Castle were moved to Abbey Strand Edinburgh, and a ceiling from Prestongrange House is at Merchiston Tower though these last two are not regularly open to the public. Two rooms in the Hotel Missoni in Edinburgh still have painted ceilings from the original early seventeenth century tenement building on the Lawnmarket.[16] Painted ceilings concealed by later plasterwork continue to be discovered. A ceiling with grotesques and scrollwork "of exceptional quality" was found at Moubray House on Edinburgh's Royal Mile in 1999. After restoration the whole building was pledged as a gift to Historic Scotland by an American benefactor in 2012.[17] Another ceiling on Edinburgh's Royal Mile was discovered in 2010.[18]

Sources of the designs

Ceiling from Rossend Castle, Burntisland, in the National Museum of Scotland, painted for Sir Robert Melville of Murdocairney with emblems taken from Claude Paradin

Some of the ceilings include pictures or emblems based on European printed books. Prestongrange's ceiling has comic figures from Richard Breton's Les songes drolatiques de Pantagruel, Paris (1565).[19] Other ornament came from 17 engravings after Hans Vredeman de Vries called the Grottesco, printed by Gerard de Jode in Antwerp (1565–71), and another set the Caryatidum depicting architectural 'terms' - load bearing figures. The ceiling is dated 1581 and at that time complimented a sideboard gifted by Esmé Stuart.[20] At Rossend, (now in the National Museum) emblems by Claude Paradin,[21] Gabriele Simeoni and Alciato were used, again with ornamental detail from Vredeman de Vries's Grottesco, with devices of European princes. A ceiling at Riddle's Court in Edinburgh has the eagle of the Holy Roman Empire combined with a thistle, perhaps to commemorate the visit of the Duke of Holstein in 1598.[22]

Emblems at Culross Palace were adapted from A Choice of Emblems by Geffrey Whitney, London (1586). The tiny engravings made by the French goldsmith Etienne Delaune supplied the ornament at the Skelmorlie Aisle. Amongst the sources used at Pinkie were de Vries's Perspectiva, (1605), Otto van Veen's Emblemata Horatiana, Antwerp (1607), and Denis de Lebey de Batilly's Emblemata, Frankfurt (1596). These demonstrate the use of renaissance pattern books by painters and patrons in Scotland, and coupled with copious classical quotations, the wealth and topicality of the library of Alexander Seton.[23]

Critical literature

Painted wooden vault at Grandtully Chapel

There are no contemporary references to this type of decoration. Most examples were concealed behind later interiors or neglected in buildings which became lower status accommodation. In the early nineteenth century antiquarian interest was kindled by discovery during the demolition of buildings in Edinburgh and Dundee. Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe and Rev. Sime rescued a part of the Apocalypse painting from Edinburgh's Castlehill and made a series of coloured record drawings now held by the Royal Commission (RCAHMS). Daniel Wilson described the ceiling at length in his Memorials of Edinburgh. At the end of the century, Andrew Lyons, artist and antiquarian, made drawings of a number of ceilings (also in RCAHMS), and published articles in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, PSAS.

In the first half of twentieth century conservation works were led by John Houston of the Ministry of Works. Ian Hodkinson, a conservator, and Michael R Apted, an inspector of ancient monuments, were instrumental in the rescue and salvage of a number of painted ceilings, published in Apted's 1966 monograph, and a series of PSAS articles. Apted made an exhaustive search of archive references to painting for his Edinburgh PhD, and this formed the basis for his collaboration with Susan Hannabuss on Painters in Scotland: A Biographical Dictionary published in 1978. John Cornforth admired the contribution of the Stenhouse Conservation Centre as antiquarian and romantic.[24] More recently, Michael Bath, emeritus professor of English, Strathclyde University, has re-assessed the corpus with a particular focus on the emblems used and their origins and meanings to the Scottish patrons. Bath has published a number of articles and a detailed illustrated 2003 monograph exploring sources with a useful comprehensive inventory of examples both extant and destroyed. Ailsa Murray's 2009 article and Chantal‐Helen Thuer's 2011 report explore conservation methods.

See also


  1. ^ See Palau de l'Almirall Valencia, Spain and later examples at Saint Cornely Church, Carnac Brittany and Peter und Paul Kirche Köngen.
  2. ^ Chinnery, Victor, Oak Furniture, Antique Collector's Club (1979), p.36, pictured: Lewis, Elizabeth, 'A jettied house at Wickham', in Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club, no.36 (1979/1980), pp.203-215: associated wall-painting is exposed in Wickham Wine Bar, the ceiling is now concealed, SMR no.MWC4723.
  3. ^ Jenkins, Moses, ed., Building Scotland, John Donald (2010), 92, 96.
  4. ^ Extracts from the records of the Burgh of Edinburgh 1528 - 1557, 194-5.
  5. ^ Apted, 'Mary Somerville's House', in PSAS, (1974), p.228
  6. ^ Murray, Ailsa, eConservation Magazine, 10, (2009)
  7. ^ Wilson (1891), 194-201
  8. ^ Bath (2003), 239-241
  9. ^ Cook (1868), 409-13.
  10. ^ Jenkins, Moses, ed., Building Scotland, John Donald (2010), 95.
  11. ^ JS Richardson, 'Mural Decorations at Kinneil,',PSAS, vol. 75, (1940–41), 184-204
  12. ^ Meldrum, (1958/9)
  13. ^ Jervise, Andrew, (1854)
  14. ^ Apted (1971/2): Thomson (1975)
  15. ^ Ross (1898/9)
  16. ^ A. Crone & D. Sproat, 'Revealing the History, timber framed building at No 302 Lawnmarket Edinburgh' in Journal of Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, 22 (EUP 2012) pp. 19-36
  17. ^ Bath (2003), p.245: Scotsman Newspaper, Lifestyle, 24 August 2012
  18. ^ Shân Ross, "Scotsman on Sunday newspaper, 22 August 2010".
  19. ^ "Les songes drolatiques de Pantagruel". (1565).
  20. ^ Sanderson, Margaret H.B., A Kindly Place, Tuckwell (2002)
  21. ^ French Emblems at Glasgow - two editions of Paradin are available here.
  22. ^ M. Pearce, 'Riddle's Court', in History Scotland Magazine, vol.12 no.4 (July/August 2012), pp. 20-27
  23. ^ Bath (2003), 79-103, 231, 236, 249-252, 258.
  24. ^ Cornforth (1994), 34.

Bibliography by date

  • Jervise, Andrew, 'Poetical Maxims from an old house at Culross' in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 2, (1854–57), 339-344
  • Jervise, Andrew, 'Painted Room at Earlshall' in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 4, (1860–62), 387-91
  • T. Etherington Cook, 'Notice of heraldic ceiling found in Linlithgow' in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries Scotland, vol. 7, (1866–68), 409-413
  • Thomas Bonnar & George Waterston junior, in Edinburgh Architectural Association Sketchbook, vol. iii, 1880–82, coloured print of Culross Palace.
  • Seton, George, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 22, (1887–88), 10-23, 'Notice of the Gallery at Pinkie House'
  • William Dobie, The Skelmorlie Aisle, (repr. from 1847), Archaeological Collections ... Ayrshire and Galloway, vi, Edinburgh (1889)
  • Daniel Wilson, Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time, vol. i, (1891), 194-201
  • Thomas Ross, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries (PSAS), vol. 33 (1898–99), 387-403, "Sibyls at Wester Livilands" (PDF).
  • Andrew S Lyons, PSAS, vol. 35, (1900–01), 109-11,"Montgomery Aisle at Largs" (PDF). Skelmorlie Aisle
  • Andrew S Lyons, PSAS, vol. 38 (1903–04), 151-172, "Tempera painting in Scotland" (PDF)., this pdf concludes with a newspaper cutting re. Old Gala House.
  • Andrew S. Lyons, 'Further Notes on Tempera-Painting in Scotland, and other Discoveries at Delgaty Castle,' PSAS, vol. 44 (1909–10), 237-59
  • J.S. Richardson, 'Mural Decorations at Kinneil,',PSAS, vol. 75, (1940–41), 184-204
  • A. Graham, PSAS, vol. 77 (1942–43), 147-154, "The Painted Ceiling in Grandtully Church" (PDF).
  • David McRoberts, 'Provost Skene’s House in Aberdeen and its Catholic Chapel,' Innes Review, vol.5 pt.2, (1954) 119-124.
  • Michael Apted, PSAS, vol. 91 (1957–58), 144-176, "Two painted ceilings from Mary Somerville's House, Burntisland, Fife" (PDF).
  • Edward Meldrum, PSAS, vol. 92 (1958–59), "Sir George Skene's House in the Guestrow, Aberdeen" (PDF).
  • Michael Apted, The painted ceilings of Scotland, HMS0, (1966)
  • Michael Apted & W Norman Robertson, PSAS, vol. 104 (1971–72), 222-235, "Two painted ceilings from Rossend Castle, Burntisland, Fife" (PDF).
  • Michael Apted & W Norman Robertson, PSAS, vol. 106 (1974–75), 158-160, "Four 'drollities' from Prestongrange, East Lothian" (PDF).
  • Duncan Thomson, Painting in Scotland 1570-1650, National Galleries of Scotland (1975), 42-49
  • Michael Apted & Susan Hannabuss, Painters in Scotland, 1301-1700: a biographical dictionary, SRS (1978)
  • Sheila MacKay ed., Scottish Renaissance Interiors, Moubray House NTS/HHA (1987)
  • Palau de l'Almirall, Valencia, Generalitat Valenciana (1991), 159-172, detailing a Spanish ceiling.
  • John Cornforth, Three decades of discovery, Country Life, 6 January 1994, 34-6
  • Michael Bath, Renaissance decoration in Scotland, NMS, (2003), ISBN 1-901663-60-4.
  • William Kay, in The Building Conservation Directory (2006), "Restoring the magic to Law's Close, Kirkcaldy". re-published by
  • Michael Bath, 'Was there a Guise Palace in Edinburgh?', in Robert Gowing and Robyn Pender, eds., All Manner of Murals: The History, Techniques and Conservation of Secular Wall Paintings, (Archetype, London, 2007)
  • Michael Bath, in Architectural Heritage, Edinburgh, 18, (2007), "Ben Jonson, William Fowler & the Pinkie Ceiling".
  • Ailsa Murray, eConservation Magazine, 10, (2009) "Scottish Renaissance Timber Painted Ceilings".
  • Michael Pearce, 'Paint', chapter in Moses Jenkins ed., Building Scotland, John Donald (2010), pp. 91–103, ISBN 978-0-85976-710-1.
  • Michael Bath, Journal of the Northern Renaissance 2.1 (Spring 2010), "Andrew Bairhum, Giovanni Ferrerio and the 'lighter style of painting'".
  • Chantal‐Helen Thuer, Scottish Renaissance Interiors: Facings and adhesives for size‐tempera painted wood, (Historic Scotland 2011)
  • A. Crone & D. Sproat, 'Revealing the History, timber framed building at No 302 Lawnmarket Edinburgh' in Journal of Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, 22 (EUP 2012) pp. 19–36
  • Fern Insh, 'Recusants and the Rosary: A Seventeenth-Century Chapel in Aberdeen' (Provost Skene's House), in Recusant History, vol.31, no.2, (2012)
  • Michael Bath, Journal of the Northern Renaissance 5 (Spring 2013), "Philostratus comes to Scotland a new source for the pictures at Pinkie".
  • Fern Insh, 'From Relegation to Elevation: The Viewer’s Relationship with Painted Ceilings from the Medieval to Renaissance Eras in North-East Scotland', in British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions, (2016).
  • Michael Bath, Anne Crone, Michael Pearce, The Dendrochronology and Art History of 16th and 17th century Painted Ceilings (Historic Environment Scotland, 2017).
  • Michael Bath, Emblems in Scotland: Motifs and Meanings (Brill: Leiden, 2018).

External links

  • Comparable painted ceiling of the aisle of the Lords of Neerlinter, Heilige Follianuskerk, Belgium
  • Les Songes Drolatiques de Pantagruel, (1565), source for paintings at Prestongrange
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