Page last updated at 11:34 GMT, Friday, 26 September 2008 12:34 UK

Stirling Heads travel to France

Stirling Head
The roundels feature imps, classical heroes, kings and queens

Four intricate wood carvings which Mary Queen of Scots would have seen as a child are heading to France for a special exhibition about the monarch.

The Stirling Heads are oak medallions - or roundels - carved by skilled craftsmen between 1530 and 1544.

They featured figures such as imps, classical heroes, kings and queens and many would have decorated the King's Inner Hall at Stirling Castle.

It is not known how many roundels were created - but 33 survive.

They would have been part of a room designed to overawe visitors with the power of the monarchy.

Mary Queen of Scots was born in Linlithgow in 1542.

She had strong connections with France - her mother, Mary of Guise, was French and in 1548 she was sent to the country and raised in the court of Henry II.

'Unknown' treasures

In 1558, she married his son and the next year became Queen of France.

However, her husband died in 1560 and Mary returned to Scotland in 1561.

Hugh Morrison, from Historic Scotland, believes Mary would have known about the roundels at Stirling Castle.

He said: "They're very important to her life, they would have been adorning the king's presence chamber when she was a child, when she was in the early years of her life before she left to join the French court.

Mary Queen of Scots (pic: Hulton Archive)
Mary would have seen the Heads when she visited Stirling Castle
"She would have also been familiar with them when she returned as an adult to Stirling Castle.

"Although we don't know who carved them, it's quite likely one or several of the carvers were French. James V had very close connections with the French court and commissioned French artists to do work of this kind."

From 15 October to the start of February, four of the Stirling Heads will be on show in Paris at an exhibition called Marie-Stuart, le destin d'une reine d'Ecosse.

It is being held at the Musee national de la Renaissance - Chateau d'Ecouen - a few miles outside the French capital.

Thierry Crepin-Leblond, curator of the exhibition, said: "Stirling's medallions are an important testimony of the Renaissance in Scotland, highlighting the strong links between French and Scottish art mostly due to James V and Marie de Guise.

"We are proud to expose into the Musee national de la Renaissance, dedicated to European Renaissance art and civilisation, Scottish Renaissance's work.

"The exhibition on Mary Stuart was an occasion to show to French visitors those unknown and impressive pieces that the Queen of Scots used to admire in the Inner Hall of her father."

After the French exhibition the Heads will be packed up again and brought back to Scotland - to go on permanent display at their home in Stirling Castle from 2011.

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