Tartan, bagpipes and rugged, wild landscapes are the traditional images associated with Scotland.
A major exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland this summer will tell the fascinating story of how they became established as enduring, internationally recognised symbols of Scottish identity and how Scotland became established in the popular imagination as a land of wilderness, heroism and history.
Wild and Majestic: Romantic Visions of Scotland spans the period from the final defeat of the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 to the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. The exhibition will explore the efforts made to preserve and revive Highland traditions in the wake of post-Jacobite persecution, depopulation and rapid socio-economic change. change.
It will show how Scotland’s relationship with the European Romantic movement transformed external perceptions of the Highlands and was central to the birth of tourism in Scotland. These developments would in turn influence the relationship between the Hanoverian royal family and Scotland, particularly George IV and, later, Queen Victoria.
Over 300 objects will be on display, drawn from the collections of National Museums Scotland and 38 lenders across the UK.
The objects tell a story with a stellar cast, including Queen Victoria and Prince Albert; King George IV; Sir Walter Scott; Robert Burns; JMW Turner; Henry Raeburn; Felix Mendelssohn; William and Dorothy Wordsworth; Ludwig Van Beethoven and Lord Byron, whose 1807 poem Lachin y Gair (Lochnagar) is quoted in the exhibition’s title. Prominent Highlanders featured include the Ossian author-translator James Macpherson, the soldier-historian David Stewart of Garth, the clan chief Mac Mhic Alasdair (Alasdair Macdonnel of Glengarry), and the folklorists Alasdair Gilleasbaig MacGilleMhìcheil (Alexander Carmichael) and Iain Òg Ìle (John Campbell of Islay).
Dr Patrick Watt, exhibition curator, said: ‘This is a contested, complex history, and also a fascinating one. There are competing claims, still, over the extent to which those symbols of Scotland we see today are Romantic inventions, or authentic expressions of an ancient cultural identity.
‘Using material evidence, we will examine the origins and development of the dress, music, and art which made up the Highland image. We will show how cultural traditions were preserved, idealised and reshaped to suit contemporary tastes against a background of political agendas, and economic and social change.’
Through rich displays reflecting the colour and flamboyance of the Highland image, visitors will encounter key developments such as the Ossian controversy, the over-turning of the ban on Highland dress, the pageantry around King George IV’s visit to Edinburgh in 1822, the Highland tourism boom, and the creation of a Romantic idyll for Queen Victoria at Balmoral.
National Museums Scotland has partnered with Sabhal Mòr Ostaig College on Skye, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), on the production of content for the major summer exhibition. Throughout the exhibition, the influence of Gaelic language and culture, and the impact of these developments on it will be shown through objects, text and film. The primary exhibition text will be presented in both English and Gaelic.
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