Page last updated at 12:13 GMT, Tuesday, 2 June 2009 13:13 UK

Ancient Stirling Heads unveiled

Stirling Head. Crown Copyright
The medallions show men dressed in 16th Century Italian fashion

A hand-carved replica set of 41 giant medallions that once covered the ceilings of Stirling Castle's Royal Palace have been unveiled.

It took expert wood carver John Donaldson five years to reproduce the oak heads, which each measure a metre.

The original 16-century medallions feature vivid depictions of medieval kings and queens as well as mythological heroes.

The works were unveiled by culture minister Michael Russell.

They were commissioned by Historic Scotland as a key part of its £12m project to return the royal palace at Stirling Castle to its original Renaissance heyday.

The ceiling of one of the most important apartments in the palace, the King's Inner Hall will be decorated by 37 of the heads.

'Wonderful experience'

Mr Russell said: "The Stirling Heads are a remarkable part of our national heritage, sometimes referred to as Scotland's other crown jewels.

"John's work in creating the replica set has been a tremendous achievement, demanding the very highest standards of artistry and craftsmanship.

"The completion of the new heads represents an important milestone in the wider project to return one of Scotland's finest royal palaces to how it may have looked when it was a childhood residence of Mary, Queen of Scots."

The unveiling will see a dozen of the replica Stirling Heads put on show in the Chapel Royal at Stirling Castle from 2 June.

Mr Donaldson, from Livingston, said: "It has been a wonderful experience to recreate the work of the Renaissance craftsmen who carved the originals 450 years ago.

"While I have been working I have often thought about who they might have been and what their lives were like.

"It's quite a privilege that my versions of the heads will become part of the castle's story, and to think that in centuries to come people might look at the ceiling of the King's Inner Hall and wonder who carved them."

The heads will now be painted in bright colours, as the originals would have been.

The Royal Palace is set to open to the public in 2011.

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