As befits its position at the edge of the Highlands, Blair Castle has a long and complicated history of conflict and changing family fortunes through seven centuries. To quote the castles's guidebook, "Over nineteen generations the Stewarts and Murrays of Atholl have been adventurers and politicians, Jacobites and Royalists, entrepreneurs and agriculturists, soldiers and scholars. They have made fortunate marriages and have almost all, in one way or another, made their mark on Blair Castle."
In the Entrance Hall, there are sufficient weapons on hand to defend against an imminent attack, though the only belligerents we saw were tourists.
Building at this site probably began well before the 13th Century when the Earl of Atholl participated in the the crusades. In his absence, a neighbor built a tower on his land. Though the neighbor was expelled upon the Earl's return, the old tower is still part of today's Castle. Built and re-built, it evolved eventually in the Victorian period into its present form, a version of the Scottish Baronial Style.
The Drawing Room is magnificently rococo and contains paintings by Zoffany and Hoppner, furniture by Chippendale, and plaster ceilings by Thomas Clayton.
The Dining Room exhibits a set of six paintings of the Atholl Estate commissioned by the 2nd Duke from the local artist Charles Steuart in the 1760s.
The scenic canvases are set in a perfect decor of elaborate plaster surrounds by mid-18th century ScotsmanThomas Clayton, who is also responsible for the ceiling.
Finally in Part One, we'll look at the ballroom, added by the 7th Duke in 1876, site of the Atholl Highlander's Ball and numerous wedding.
Many more rooms to come next week...followed by a Highland Safari.
Gargunnock House was the wonderful home of Number One London's Scotland adventure in September 2019. We had some meals at home, expertly prepared by our colleagues, especially Cecily and Andrea. The rest of us helped out now and then...and gratefully consumed the delicacies.
The view across the pasture toward the central Perthshire Mountains was breathtaking. The house evolved from an ancient Tower House known to be there in the 16th century. In the next centuries, wings were added and by the 1794, it took on its faintly Georgian appearance.
Even this late in the season the gardens remained lovely. Love the colorful hydrangeas. Please click on the pictures for larger versions.
The grounds and the path to the village also had interesting flora, but little fauna, merely the occasional presence of a few pheasants, none of which consented to posing.
Gargunnock House is about 6 miles from Stirling and a 15-minute walk from the village of Gargunnock where we took great advantage of the local pub and village shop.
Below, representing the fauna in the Hall!
The rooms are large and light. Below, left, the library; right, the Hall; lower left, the kitchen; lower right, the dining room.
The piano in the Drawing Room is a Broadwood made in London in 1794. and is said to have been played by Frederic Chopin about 1848. He was the teacher and friend of Jane Stirling, whose brother Charles Stirling, a Glasgow merchant, purchased the house in 1835. The house is now rented out for holiday guests.
Gargunnock House was an ideal base for our further rambles into the Highlands, to Loch Lommond and to several imposing castles...stay tuned.
Above. the Unicorn in Captivity, a tapestry created for the Queen's Bed Chamber in Scotland's Stirling Palace, a stitch for stitch copy of its famous original created in the Low Countries/northern France around 1500 and now residing in the Cloisters Museum of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. I will tell you the story of how these tapestries were created, but first, WHY?
The mythical unicorn is generally considered to be a symbol of purity, only tamed by a young virgin, and otherwise unconquerable. Since the 12th c., the unicorn has been associated with Scotland and used in coats of arms and on coins. Scotland and England were united in 1603 when James VI of Scotland became King James I of Great Britain. The official coat of arms, continuing to this day as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, includes a unicorn and a lion.
I was most interested to see the Unicorn Tapestries at Stirling Castle because I had visited the "originals" at The Cloisters some time ago. They are in amazing condition with very bright colors--considering they are 500 years old.
The Cloisters is located in New York City's Fort Tryon Park. a considerable distance from the Fifth Avenue flagship building of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but well worth the effort. It was built 1935-38 to house ancient and medieval art.
The Unicorn in Captivity, from the website of the Met (image in the public domain). This probably is the most famous of the seven images in the set. Below, from the Met's images, top left, The Unicorn is Found; right, The Unicorn Defends Himself; lower left, the Unicorn Attacked; lower right, the Unicorn is Brought to the Castle
The Unicorn Tapestries were owned by the La Rochefoucauld Family in France for several centuries. They were purchased in 1922 by John D. Rockefeller Jr. and donated to the Met in 1938.
The Stirling Castle copies were carefully woven according to the original techniques and in the same materials based on high resolution digital photographs taken when the Cloisters' tapestries were cleaned and restored in 1998. Two teams of weavers worked on the weaving project, which took more than a decade to complete. Above and below the Stirling versions of "The Unicorn is Found."
According to the website, 'The project was commissioned by Historic Scotland in 2001 as part of a wider effort to restore the king's palace to its 1540s style. A team of 18 weavers from across the globe came together to reinterpret and create the "Hunt of the Unicorn" tapestries.'
It goes on, 'In the 1540s, the palace was home to James V's wife, Mary of Guise, and their young daughter, Mary Queen of Scots. It was known from royal inventories that when James V built the palace he owned more than 100 tapestries, but there is no record of what happened to them. The inventories, however, described a set of tapestries depicting "the historie of the unicorne"... Peter Buchanan, Historic Scotland's project manager who oversaw the process, said it had been a "privilege to watch" the weavers recreate the tapestries "in all their Renaissance glory"... He said: "Whilst we may never know what happened to the original tapestries, the fact that we now have these fantastic recreations, with the assistance of the Met in New York and through the generosity of our donors, will provide visitors to the castle now, and for generations to come, with a real insight into how the palace may have been at the time of James V.'
Above, the Mystic Hunt for the Unicorn, a 'new' tapestry, recreated from fragments in the Cloisters. It is thought that the tapestries might have been trimmed to fit a particular room, amazing as that seems from our viewpoint. Below, part of the exhibit chronicling details of the creation of the Unicorn Tapestries.
The myths and legends of the Unicorn's purity and the role of the innocent maiden in taming it has long been a favorite of artists, particularly those who designed tapestries. Another famous set of Unicorn tapestries resides in the Cluny Museum in Paris, below. Note that the backgrounds of both sets of tapestries show elaborate millefleur designs, beautiful flowers and small animals in intricate detail.
We spent a half-day in the musee de Cluny in 2014 where we viewed 'The Lady and the Unicorn,' six tapestries woven around 1500 in the Low Countries or northern France. part of the Cluny's collection since 1882. The represent six senses.
Above left, the Sense of Hearing; right, Sense of Sight.
Like the The Hunt for the Unicorn, these tapestries represent, in the words of the Cluny curators, "a crossroads between two historical eras--that we nowadays call the Middle Ages and the Renaissance--in blurring the boundaries between the real and the imaginary ... and merging the secular and spiritual worlds."
Below, left, Sense of Taste; right, Sense of Touch.
The senses are allegorical observations on earthly pleasures and courtly culture. The Sixth Sense is portrayed by the lady returning her jewels to a casket. Scholars have long debated the sensory representation -- be it moral or emotional.
Legends involving unicorns have flourished for many years...and I am tempted to add some of the images from contemporary cartoons and videos. But to place them alongside the brilliant images above almost seems blasphemous.
Long live the Scottish Unicorn!
This magnificent aerial view, via Wikipedia, shows the town of Stirling at the top and the castle sprawling on the stone outcrops in the center and lower part of the photo. What is does not convey is the height of the fortress, which you can deduce from the view, below.
From the ramparts, looking northeast toward the Monument to Sir William Wallace (1270-1305) leader of the Scots against the English. He was victorious in the battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 but later was captured and died a traitor's death in London.
The entrance to the castle clearly reveals its tactical value and military purpose. No doubt about those cannons. One guidebook (Michelin) states, "Stirling has been strategically important from time immemorial...perched on its well-nigh impregnable crag..." between lowland and highland Scotland.
Though the fortress had been there for centuries and was supposedly captured by the legendary King Arthur, the palace at the castle was built in Renaissance style in the late 15th century by James IV. His son, James V, lived here.
Below: left, Stairway to the entrance; center, costume of the Queen, Mary of Guise, for the Christmas celebrations in 1540; right, a recreation of the King's Inner Hall.
Above, the exterior of the Great Hall, probably built by James IV in 1501-1504; Below, the interior, the Great Hall with its hammer beam ceiling, the site of royal meetings for a century.
Below, the view to the west, overlooking the King's Knot, earthworks remaining from a 17th C. formal garden created for the visit of Charles I, in the 1620's. Sometimes known locally as the 'cup and saucer' the area inspired legends associated with King Arthur and his Roundtable.
Inside the Palace, the rooms used by royalty have been recreated. Below, the King' Bedchamber, featuring the unicorn, a symbol of royal strength and purity, over the fireplace.
Below, two views of the Queen's Bedchamber.
In the Queen's Inner Hall, a costumed guide tells the story of the Unicorn tapestries. Next week, you'll find more about Scotland and the Unicorn in this blog.
Stirling Castle Walls
This lovely image was posted by a clever expert in the Victoria, B.C. region of the Jane Austen Society of North America. I am taking the liberty of borrowing it for this post on three stupendous events occurring in late December: Jane Austen's birthday on Dec. 16, the Winter Solstice on Dec. 21, and Christmas Day on Dec. 25, and all the other celebrations that cluster at this time of year. Miss Austen's birthday aside, I think most of these celebrations are based on the gradual return of the sun in northern climes, an annual event that must have been met with the greatest appreciation by every living thing.
I love this original take on a gingerbread house--Stonehenge where the solstices have been celebrated for eons. This imaginative version comes from the blog http://www.turquoiselemons.com/
home of many ingenious ideas.
Here is a more traditional house, not actually gingerbread, but perfect for the season.
This is a real gingerbread house, decorated by the grandsons a few years ago. Little by little those red gumdrops disappeared during the season.
Whatever you choose to celebrate, here's wishing you the happiest of Decmebers and everything you wish for in 2020.
Hopetoun House in South Queensferry, East Lothian. Below, a print of King George IV, first British monarch in two centuries to visit Scotland, at Hopetoun House in August 1822. The King was greeted by large crowds; he knighted several Scotsmen, including artist Sir Henry Raeburn during his visit.
As I wrote in the last post, Hopetoun was built 1699-1701 according to plans from architect Sir William Bruce. The house was extended and remodeled beginning in 1720 by William Adam and his sons, John, James, and Robert. Most of the rooms in the previous post came essentially from the days of the Bruce designs. Today, we feature rooms with the unmistakable Adam touch.
The Yellow Drawing Room is VERY Adam, don't you think? Much of the furniture was supplied by James Cullen. The gilt mirror is by famous furniture maker John Linnell. Below, left, the ceiling design, a lovely example of the 18th c. rococo style. Another angle of the room, showing the Adam style of doors surround; right, pictures of King George VI and two photos of Elizabeth, the late Queen Mother. It is a custom of country houses to display picture of the royal family visiting.
Below, the Red Drawing Room, arranged in the 18th c. 'parade' style with seating arranged around the walls instead of in conversation groups, all supplied by James Cullen. Farther below, the ceiling of the Red Drawing Room, an even more renowned rococo design created by John Dawson, a colleague of the Adams brothers.
Below, the State Dining Room
Below more views of the State Dining Room. and at right, a view down the 'enfilade' of rooms in this wing of the house. Lower row, left, a Minton 'Majolica' oyster stand; center and right, two of the French dessert plates bearing the earl's coronet and a classic H.
Scenes from the Butler's Pantry and Servery. below.
We completed our visit with a delicious snack in the former Stable Block, now the tea room. Below, the Stables' exterior.
More Scottish adventures to come.
Here is Hopetoun House, home of the Hope family, the Marquesses of Linlithgow, just north of Edinburgh. The left view below shows the main structure of the house; in the center photo, the aerial view above the entrance; on the right, an aerial photo looking south, which shows the Forth Bridges at the top left of the photo, and the "back" or older section of the house, the West Front. Remember please to click on the small photos to expand their size.
Below, shots of the three bridges which cross the Forth River to join North Queensferry with South Queensferry as the river flows into the Firth of Forth and eventually to the North Sea. Firth is a version if the word Fjord, a glacial basin.
The Hope family arrived in this location in the 17th century, operating lead mines in the area. The first section of the present house was built for the Hopes in 1699-1701 by Sir William Bruce, a gentleman-architect who is responsible for many notable houses in Scotland. Just two decades later in 1721, Charles Hope, 1st Earl of Hopetoun (1681-1742) hired William Adam to enlarge and remodel the house. Below is a plan showing the older sections in tan and the Adam-designed portions outlined in black. Adam's two sons, John and Robert, completed the interior decoration in the style for which they are historically renowned.
The pictures in this and the next post were taken by me and/or my companions at Hopetoun House in September, 2019, unless otherwise noted. Below left, the entrance gate; the shrubbery walk from the car park to the house; right, we approach the first of the pavilions, at the south, passing the ha-ha.
Above, left, is the ballroom in the south pavilion, often in use for weddings. In its anteroom, center and right, are some of those animal heads you so often see in these country homes. In the 21st century, they are certainly distasteful to us, but no doubt reflect the values of previous centuries of aristocrats who thought of the hunt of now-endangered species as sport.
Other sections of the southern wing are occupied by the current family of Hopes.
The hall, pictured above from the Hopetoun House website, was part of the Bruce house, altered by the Adams. Above the fireplace and at left below is a portrait of John Adrian Louis, 7th Earl of Hopetoun and 1st Marquess of Linlithgow (1860-1908), by artist Robert Brough. At right below, a bust of the Duke of Wellington by Sculptor Thomas Campbell, c. 1827, which stands beside the fireplace.
According to the Hopetoun House Guidebook, "The staircase is one of the chief decorative features of the Bruce house. The pine-panelled walls, frieze, cornice, and panel borders were carved with flowers, fruit, wheatears, and peapods by Alexander Eizat, a Scottish woodcarver..."
The Garden Room, below, has a view of the lawn and pool. Center, the clock is a musical automaton made by Jan Henkels of Amsterdam about 1730. On the right, a portrait of John, 4th Earl of Hopetoun, painted by Sir John Watson Gordon.
Above, the State Bedchamber, created by architect Bruce for the young 1st Earl of Hopetoun. Below, the shelves of deed boxes in the Charter Room, built to be fireproof to protect the family records.
The libraries combined several smaller rooms to house the ever-growing collections of the Hope family.
The very tempting rows of old volumes, left; center, a portrait of the Ladies Jemma and Lucy Hope, daughters of the 3rd Earl, painted by David Allan, c. 1782; right, model of the house. Lower row, various details of the libraries.
Below, though mostly decorated in shades of green, the White Bedchamber carries its name from an earlier incarnation. below left, the Pattern Chair by James Cullen, c.1760; center, a Dutch walnut commode with floral marquetry from the mid 18th c.; Verdure tapestries from Antwerp studios in the 17th c.
The final room still 'more or less' remaining from the Bruce house is the West Bedchamber with its Anteroom.
Below, the recreated Bed Hangings were made by textile volunteers in 1990; the Flemish tapestries are from a series on the months of the year; Oak cradle, undated.
Next time, the State Apartments and East Pavilion.
Here's a shot of the National Gallery from the Edinburgh Festival site -- I tried to take a similar image but the sun was right behind the Gallery and -- it was a dreadful pic. So I turned to the web. Thanks!! The rest of the pics are mine, the good, the bad, and the crooked!
If you enter and turn left, you will begin at the chronological start of the collection, with altarpieces and paintings from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. I was particularly taken with the Titian (below) "Diana and Callisto" from 1556-59, which so clearly recalled my visit to Venice a year before.
I hastened on to visit some of my favorite Scottish and English painters from the 18th and 19th centuries. Always a favorite is Sir Henry Raeburn (1756-1823). Below, his painting c. 1795 "The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddington Loch," definitely a crowd-pleaser.
Below, Raeburn's portrait of Margaritta Macdonald, Mrs. Robert Scott Moncrieff (died 1824), painted in 1814. The Gallery says its "heightened romanticism, sensibility, and sensuality have endowed its iconic status" in the collection.
Below, portraits. Left, The Ladies Waldegrave, 1780, by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792); center, The Honorable Mrs. Graham, 1777, by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788); right, Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, 1892, by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). Click on the pictures for larger versions.
Below, Sir William Allan's 1833 painting of The Murder of David Rizzio, showing Mary Queen of Scots at the assassination of her Italian secretary in 1566. Mary's tragic life is a frequent subject of Scottish artists.
This glorious 1867 view of 'Niagara Falls from the American Side' is said to be the only painting in Europe by American artist Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), famed as one of the original members of the Hudson River School of American landscape painters.
Two charming portraits of Scottish boys with their dogs by Sir Henry Raeburn were recently acquired by the Gallery. Below, left, is William Stuart Forbes (1802-26) in 1809; right, his younger brother John Stuart Hepburn Forbes (1804-1866) in 1812; John inherited the family title and fortune after William died at age 24.
Prominent Scottish artist Sir David Wilkie (1785-1841) portrayed 'General Sir David Baird Discovering the Body of Sultan Tippoo Sahib after Having Captured Seringapatam in the 4th May, 1799.'
Though I am leaving out many excellent paintings I loved, I will close with the great work that perfectly depicts Scotland in the mind of many of us: 'The Monarch of the Glen' painted by Sir Edwin Landseer about 1851.
Next, heading north...
SCOTLAND...the image of rugged strength combined with intellectual brilliance and magnificent castles and rococo salons...I could enthuse on for paragraphs to detail the dreams and metaphors in my mind. With all these ideas spinning in my head, I went forth for my first excursion north of Edinburgh.
Above, the scenic inspiration...I've wanted to explore Scotland for many many years...but on previous visits to Britain, I was so fascinated by the Borders region and Edinburgh that I never actually made it farther toward the Highlands. But joining Kristine Hughes Patrone and her group from Number One London Tours, I finally got my chance. In the next few weeks, I will bring you some of my pictures and experiences from my trip in September 2019.
We arrived via Waverley Station, the world's only railroad station named for a novel, Sir Walter Scott's Waverley, written in 1814. We gathered at the lovely boutique Hotel No. Eleven, in Brunswick Street. The next day I went to Edinburgh Castle, another spot that I had never managed on previous visits. The remainder of the group visited the retired royal yacht Britannia, which I had visited years before, so I opted for the Castle.
One of several bagpipers who serenade the tourists in the city.
Edinburgh Castle is massive and as formidable as one could imagine. But I found the guides incredibly helpful and even managed a ride to the crest via an interior tunnel carved out of the stone--for the convenience of the military--and the tourists who ask!
The Castle was crowded with visitors. And the views of the surrounding city were almost as superlative as the structure itself.
Mere words cannot convey the sense of power that you feel while investigating the various rooms and displays which encompass the history of Scotland.
Next week, a visit to the Scottish National Gallery and its brilliant collection of art.
We'll return to visit more rooms of Ham House, a brilliant 17th Century house belonging to the National Trust. Two weeks ago we looked at the Great Hall and a few others. Today, we start with the North Drawing Room.
Created in 1637-39, it was part of the State Rooms where honored guests would withdraw after dining. The NT Guidebook tells us the twisted columns at the sides of the fireplace were "inspired by similar features in one of the cartoons (preliminary designs) for Raphael's Act of the Apostles (then in the collection of Charles I)." Very unusual to say the least.
Equally unusual is the Ivory Cabinet "probably made in Antwerp in the 1670's when ivory was still a rare and exotic material." Below, the Long Gallery, hung with portraits of family and friends.
Above left, a self portrait of artist Van Dyke; a wheelchair belonging to the 9th Earl of Dysart (1859-1935) who died without issue. Ham House went to his second cousin, 81-year-old Sir Lyonel Tollemache. Sir Lyonel and his son donated the house, which miraculously survived many nearby WWII bombings, to the National Trust in 1948.
A highlight of Ham House is the Green Closet, above. The NT writes, "It is an almost unique survival of a cabinet room of the 1630s and vividly evokes the art-loving court of Charles I." The room is filled with small paintings, miniatures, two Japanese cabinets (center below) and a painted ceiling (right) commissioned from artist Franz Cleyn in the 1630s.
The library, clearly a place we'd love to inhabit, full of appealing volumes and a large collection of globes and maps.
And here we find the Sp, AKA the Duchess' Bathroom, 17th century style.
She could relax on the chaise but I fear the tub lacked spouts for circulating water. Perhaps the maid stirred the contents instead. It certainly would have been the height of contemporary luxury.
More and more the NT houses are restoring the servant's areas...since most of their visitors would probably have more in common with the downstairs than the upstairs. And one of the volunteers in the kitchen gave us a nice send-off with a view of the work of art she had just finished baking. Brava!!
Victoria Hinshaw, Author