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Trees, Carols and Murals

December 8, 2009

Every year at the end of November, visitors to the Portrait Gallery and National Gallery of Scotland staff could be forgiven for crying “already!”, at the sight of the Christmas tree towering in the Great Hall. Now that December is upon us, here is a virtual version for all of you who are missing out on the occasion this year. The annual Portrait Gallery Carol Concert, performed by the Edinburgh University Singers, has relocated to the National Gallery of Scotland and will be held on Wednesday 9 December, from 1.15 to 1.45pm.

The Great Hall is one of my favourite experiences in Edinburgh, I never tire of walking through the front doors and coming upon this part of the Gallery and all the treasures within. As a central part of Portrait of the Nation, we are looking at ways to re-interprete this part of the building. Part of this process consists of delving into the history of the decorative scheme of the Great Hall – the frieze, murals, zodiacal ceiling, heraldry and stained glass.

Seventeen themes from Scottish history were originally proposed by William Hole (1846-1917) to occupy both, the walls of the Ambulatory, and those of the Great Hall on the ground floor. In the end, the ground floor walls were left as brick and Hole executed seven scenes on the Ambulatory of the Portrait Gallery, continuing his scheme in a number of paintings for the Edinburgh City Chambers. From our temporary offices at Baden-Powell House, it was only a hop, skip and jump across the Royal Mile, to the City Chambers, for a rewarding examination of Hole’s later murals illustrating Scottish history.

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