Page last updated at 11:39 GMT, Saturday, 13 February 2010

Stirling Heads return to castle

John Donaldson with heads. Pic by Rob McDougall
Craftsmen John Donaldson took five years to carve the replica heads

A one-off exhibition offering a close-up view of the 37 replica Stirling Heads is being held at Stirling Castle.

The artefacts are to be used to recreate a lost Renaissance royal palace ceiling.

The exhibition will be the only time visitors will be able to see the hand-carved, metre-wide oak medallions in their natural state.

They are to be painted in bright colours - in authentic Renaissance style.

The new heads, which took Livingston wood carver John Donaldson five years to complete, are copies of the 16th Century originals.

They are a key part of Historic Scotland's £12m project to return the royal palace inside Stirling Castle to how it may have looked in its prime.

The recreation of the long-lost ceiling of the King's Inner Hall will be a very important part of what visitors experience
Fiona Hyslop
Culture Minister

The originals once adorned the ceiling of the King's Inner Hall and are of such artistic importance they are sometimes called Scotland's other crown jewels.

The ceiling had collapsed by the end of the 18th Century, but many of the heads were kept safe.

They include images of the Scottish royal family, such as James V who built the palace and had the originals made, great noblemen and women, Roman emperors and Classical heroes.

'Authentic taste'

Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop said: "The project to return the royal palace to its Renaissance glory will provide Stirling, and Scotland, with a fantastic new attraction which will draw visitors from around the world.

"The recreation of the long-lost ceiling of the King's Inner Hall, which was famous for its wonderful carved heads, will be a very important part of what visitors experience."

Peter Buchanan, Stirling Castle Palace project manager, said: "The palace will give visitors an authentic taste of what the Scottish Renaissance royal palace was like - rich with colour, sumptuously decorated and finely furnished.

"But before the new heads are attached to the ceiling we wanted people to have the chance to see the workmanship that has gone into carving them."

The exhibition is running until 21 February and is the centrepiece of Stirling Castle's carving month.

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