Secrets of Stirling Castle Revealed

Tuesday talk at the Kelly Gallery 20 November

JOHN DONALDSON on master woodcarving – The Stirling Heads

Master woodcarver John Donaldson promises to unravel some of the mystery and intrigue behind the grand design of Stirling Castle, during the course of his talk at the Kelly Gallery on 20 November.

As Scotland’s foremost and prolific woodcarver, John has undertaken an immense variety of work over the years, most notably when he was commissioned by Historic Scotland to create the Stirling Heads, a set of carved oak Renaissance medallions depicting courtiers, classical heroes and other figures, which originally adorned the ceiling of the King’s Inner Hall in Stirling Castle’s mid-16th century palace block.

“During the course of my talk, I hope to unravel the mystery of just who was responsible for the grand design of the Grand Palace in the castle,” explains John, who worked on the project from 2004 until 2009. “It was while I was carving the roundels that I became more aware of those who had worked on the project hundreds of years ago.

“These decorative interpreters created a theme which tells the story of King’s elevation. You could call it sophisticated propaganda but it involved a lengthy process of twists and turns, and fine architecture. What particularly fascinates me is the person who planned and put together such an incredibly complex building in just four years.”

“It spurred me on to develop a talk which explores the possibilities of the identity of the grand designer, viewed from the perspective of a carver not a historian.  As someone who has worked on the process, I will look at different detail in the heads, and approach the mystery in a new way.

“The variety of work undertaken over the years is immense and the stories behind the jobs, people and places are rich with colour. For me, the whole thing pivots on master of works who had considerable control over the building. Was he responsible with the grand design?”

James Hamilton of Finnart was a renowned architect and master of works at the time but was executed when King James felt he had become too powerful. All his papers mysteriously disappeared, includingthose linked to Stirling which would have contained the white plans and a detailed account of the design.

John hopes to partially resolve this mystery at his Tuesday talk. Join him at the RGI Kelly Gallery on 20 November.


All of the illustrated talks are at 11 am at The Kelly Gallery, with coffee etc served from 1030 and included in your £6 admission.

Please book at the gallery or by phone or email:
RGI Kelly Gallery
118 Douglas Street
Tel. 0141 248 6386

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