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Mary, Queen of Scots is Presented at the National Museum of Scotland

Mary, Queen of Scots is Presented at the National Museum of Scotland

A major exhibition on the life of Mary, Queen of Scots opens tomorrow at the National Museum of Scotland. The exhibition, showing only in Edinburgh, will explore the myth and reality that surround one of the most enigmatic and romanticised figures in Scottish history through a unique gathering of paintings, jewellery, textiles, furniture, drawings, maps and documents.

Significant loans from major public collections in Scotland, England and France and from private collections build on the Scottish history collections of National Museums Scotland to create a rich and detailed picture of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Several important portraits of Mary will be shown, including the Blairs Memorial Portrait and the portrait of Mary in white mourning by Francis Clouet, painted after the death of her first husband. There is a significant gap in the portrait record of Mary for the time she actually ruled in Scotland (1561 to 1567). National Museums Scotland engaged Professor Caroline Wilkinson, a forensic artist from the University of Dundee (who famously did a reconstruction of Richard III last year), to produce a facial reconstruction of what Mary may have looked like by the end of her reign, based upon the existing portraiture and what we know of her life and times.

By this time, although only 25 years old, Mary was twice widowed, accused of murder and about to be forced from the Scottish throne into eventual exile and imprisonment in England. The new depiction takes into account these trials and tribulations and is presented in the exhibition as an animation by artist Janice Aitken from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design.

Visitors will be able to view documentary evidence, from the earliest surviving letter written by Mary to the warrant for her execution signed by Elizabeth I, which is on display in Scotland for the first time since it was acquired by Lambeth Palace in 2007. Other key documents include examples of the "Casket letters", which were used to incriminate her in the Darnley murder, and a letter with secret cipher, which were presented as proof of her association with the Babington plot to assassinate Elizabeth I and thus led eventually to her execution in 1587.

Some of the finest pieces of jewellery associated with Mary will also be on show. She owned a spectacular collection of jewellery and a gold necklace and pendant locket, known collectively as the Penicuik jewels, will be on display. These were said to have been given to one of her supporters during her captivity, jewels being useful gifts to bind supporters to the Crown.

Mary, Queen of Scots at the National Museum of Scotland traces Mary's story through the dynastic alliances at the heart of Renaissance Europe, following her life from birth in Scotland, childhood in France, to ruling both France and Scotland as Queen, her imprisonment in England and eventual execution. Mary's legacy is also considered: through her son, King James VI and I, she is the direct ancestor of the present royal family.

George Dalgleish, Keeper of Scottish History & Archaeology at National Museums Scotland, said,

"Following our acclaimed exhibition exploring the life and collections of Catherine the Great, we are proud to present Mary, Queen of Scots, an extraordinary exhibition which investigates a celebrated figure through compelling and remarkable objects. More remarkable still is the fact the Museum sits on the location of one of the most controversial events in Mary's story- the murder of Darnley."

Portraits, sketches, jewels, letters and personal effects introduce the key characters in Mary's story, her family (the Stewarts of Scotland and the Guise and Valois families of France), her friends, her supporters and her husbands, as well as her detractors, rivals and enemies.

The exhibition examines Mary's key position in Renaissance Europe, alongside some of her female contemporaries: Mary of Guise, Mary Tudor, Elizabeth I of England, and Catherine de Medici. Mary was sent to live in France at 5 years old, to join one of Europe's most powerful and flamboyant courts. There she became, briefly, queen of France before her young husband, the Dauphin François, died.

She returned to Scotland a striking young widow in 1561; tall, with auburn hair and a fine pale complexion, illustrated by a fine portrait by Francois Clouet from the Royal Collection Trust. The exhibition explores the character and lifestyle of the young Queen, in a challenging political and religious context. Mary's youth and joie de vivre enriched the existing Renaissance character of the Scottish court of her mother, father and grandfather. Raised in a sophisticated and glittering environment, Mary loved fine clothing and amassed a spectacular wardrobe of elegant and fashionable dresses. While very little original costume survives from the period, there will be sketches from Jasper Conran OBE for the costumes used in the 1998 English National Opera production of Donizetti's Maria Stuarda.

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