ME3303 Class Trip to Stirling Castle & Palace
April 8, 2013 1 Comment
On 8 March, the students of honours module ME3303 The Renaissance in Late Mediaeval Scotland visited the Castle and Palace of Stirling, along with Dr Katie Stevenson. The Great Hall and the Royal Palace were built during the period covered by the module and there is module coursework linked to the visit. Students Hazel Blair, Charlotte Coote, Nancy Gross, Lillah Kennedy, Rosie Maxton and Jess Meagher reflect below on their visit.
“Our visit to Stirling was a valuable experience because it gave us the chance to get a tangible sense of the atmosphere of the Scottish renaissance court and its culture, which we have been studying with Dr Katie Stevenson in our module ‘The Renaissance in Late Mediaeval Scotland’. The most recent restoration works at Stirling, carried out by the Historic Scotland Stirling Castle Palace Project, have sought to authentically re-create the castle’s palace (after the completion in 1999 of the restoration of the Great Hall) in the style of their original 16th century construction. Given how altered these spaces had become since their inception (the palace even functioned as a military depot until 1964), the project’s work has been crucial in recovering the Stewart buildings in order to bring to life Scotland’s place within the wider currents of the Northern Renaissance of the 16th century.”
“After a tour of the museum, we visited the castle’s Great Hall. A large rectangular room measuring 600m2, James IV’s hall was completed around 1503. It was used predominantly as a ceremonial space, and was a fascinating structure for its time, particularly in relation to the power and authority of the King. Space and light were used to emphasise this prerogative, and the design contained influences from the Northern Renaissance. It was a marvellous piece of architecture in its day, and to stand within it now as students studying the Renaissance in Scotland was incredible.”
“After a photo in front of the elite dais at the far end of the hall, we crossed to James V’s Palace via a bridge that he constructed between the two buildings. Again, here we could see (as we’ve studied) how James V’s building of the palace was a demonstration of his power as king. Being there in person, it was clear how he used art and architecture to augment his reputation. The building itself, constructed around 1538, enclosed the upper square of Stirling Castle, reorienting the principle buildings at Stirling around a quadrangular inner courtyard in imitation of contemporary European style, displaying James V’s cosmopolitanism and conceptually connecting Scotland to developments on the Continent. Our immediate impressions on walking into the restored Palace rooms were of luxury and expense, and it was shocking to hear that the restoration project had only the resources to produce just a fraction of the extent of the original luxury.”
“This experience really brought home what we had read about chivalric pomp and ceremonial displays of power and learning in the Renaissance. What stood out especially were the beautifully restored Queen’s Bedchamber and Inner Hall, where we saw a triptych exemplifying religious art and personal devotion, and the more secularly themed reconstructed tapestries displaying colourful hunting scenes featuring the Stewart family’s signature unicorn. Going as a class made the experience especially rewarding since together we could relate what we saw to different aspects of the course that we had each individually looked into. Alongside Katie’s valuable expertise, this contributed to a dynamic and enjoyable academic discussion.”
“Finally, after a class photo, we visited the Stirling Heads Gallery. The Stirling Heads are a series of carved oak medallions depicting a wide range of historical and mythological characters, which originally decorated part of the ceiling of the royal apartments of Stirling Palace. The ceiling of the King’s Inner Hall at the Palace contains colourful painted replicas of the Heads as they may have looked. This provided a fantastic visual insight into the richness of the sixteenth century decoration as well as a much better understanding of the Heads as a singular piece of decorative art. Having seen the replicas in situ, it was rewarding to be able to look at some of the originals up close. This gave a useful sense of the scale and detail of the heads. Experiencing the contrast between the originals and the replicas provoked interesting thoughts about how the appearance and vivid colouring of the Heads has changed over time and the importance of the context that they are viewed in.”
“When we visit historical sites now, particularly in Scotland, we are often accustomed to bare, grey stone. These experiences impact upon our wider perceptions about the Middle Ages, contributing to popular understandings that life in medieval Scotland was a dark and dreary affair. Even though, as students of history, we might read that this perception is false, there is nothing more enlightening than to experience a fragment of this history in person. And so, it was truly enlightening to get a real sense of the intricate workmanship and artistic endeavour that went into the construction of the Great Hall and Palace at Stirling. This is testament to the importance of heritage sites and reconstruction projects to history in both academic and public spheres.”
For more information on the module ME3303 The Renaissance in Late Mediaeval Scotland, please click here.