New exhibition explores the afterlife of Scotland’s most controversial monarch

Published: 20 September 2022

A major new exhibition exploring the afterlife of Scotland’s most controversial monarch, Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587), opens at The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, this October.

The Afterlife of Mary Queen of Scots
14 October 2022–5 February 2023
Hunterian Art Gallery
Admission free

A major new exhibition exploring the afterlife of Scotland’s most controversial monarch, Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587), opens at The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, this October.

Rachel Maclean, The Queen, 2013.  Courtesy the artist.Inspired by the enduring interest in the life, and death, of the famous Scottish queen, this fascinating exhibition at the Hunterian Art Gallery explores the cultural afterlife of Mary Queen of Scots and her posthumous reputation. It also considers why Mary has had such an important and enduring presence in Scottish collective memory and popular culture.

Drawing on the vast array of objects related to Mary Queen of Scots in the University of Glasgow’s collections, The Afterlife of Mary Queen of Scots covers themes such as Princess, Queen and Captive, From Power to Romance and Iconic Mary.

It begins with objects dating from Mary’s own time that bring us as close as possible to the ‘real Mary’ then turns to the countless conflicting, emotionally charged and sometimes enigmatic depictions of Mary across over the centuries, before considering what she means to us today.

The objects tell their own tales and reveal a great deal about the way Mary's story has been used across the centuries to approach broader issues such as gender, sexuality, power, monarchy and diversity.

The exhibition explores what these objects can tell us about different societies’ attitudes to Mary and are selected from The Hunterian and University of Glasgow Archives and Special Collections. They include art, coins and medals, printed books and other archival material ranging from film posters and theatre programmes to comic book artwork and rubber ducks.

Must see items include:

  • The Abdication of Mary Queen of Scots by Gavin Hamilton (1723-1798), one of the most significant Mary pieces in The Hunterian collection. This pioneering painting presents Mary as a classical heroine and was intended to influence the debate around her true nature. 
  • The Blackhouse Charter, a rare document dating to 1563 which bears Mary’s privy seal and records her grant of former monastic lands in the city to the University of Glasgow to provide bursaries for five poor students.
  • A silver Mary Queen of Scots Testoon of 1553 which has been deliberately defaced leaving Mary’s portrait scarred with deep gouges.
  • Head of Mary Queen of Scots after Decollation, a rare painting by Amias Cawood on loan from the Faculty of Advocates Abbotsford Collection Trust. They and the Abbotsford Trust are the custodians of the antiquarian collections once owned by the famous Scottish author Sir Walter Scott, one of Mary’s greatest admirers.
  • A unique silver snuff box of 1887 inspired by iconic Marian ryals and made in the tercentenary of Mary’s execution, illustrating the rising popularity of Marian mementoes.
  • The Queen, a digital print by Glasgow based artist and printmaker Rachel Maclean (b.1987) which presents a vision of mythological Scottish history. It is part of a series of works commissioned and published by Edinburgh Printmakers in the lead-up to the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence.

The Afterlife of Mary Queen of Scots is the result of a University of Glasgow led research project mapping the presence of Mary Queen of Scots items in Scottish heritage collections, aimed at understanding how Mary’s legend has impacted on Scottish society and culture. The research project was funded by a Royal Society of Edinburgh Research Network Grant.

The Afterlife of Mary Queen of Scots is at the Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow from 14 October 2022 until 5 February 2023. Admission free.

A programme of family events inspired by the exhibition will run from 8–20 October 2022.

The Hunterian Art Gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday, 10.00am to 5.00pm. Closed Monday.

Image: Rachel Maclean, The Queen, 2013. Courtesy the artist.

For further information contact:

Anne Dulau, Curator, The Hunterian

Dr Steven Reid, Senior Lecturer in Scottish History, University of Glasgow

For images contact:

Harriet Gaston, Communications Manager, The Hunterian

Notes to Editors

The Hunterian

The oldest public museum in Scotland, with collections spanning arts, sciences and humanities, The Hunterian is at the forefront of university museums around the world. Since it opened at the University of Glasgow in 1807, The Hunterian has been an invaluable academic and community resource and in years to come, The Hunterian is committed to becoming a more meaningful place for more diverse audiences.

As a university gallery and museum, The Hunterian creates space for intellectual inquiry and a process of learning and experimentation. The Hunterian collection’s Enlightenment history made a repository of knowledge that materialises the problematic history of Western modernity and its fundamentally colonial and capitalist underpinnings. The founding collection came through the bequest of Dr William Hunter (1718-1783) and since The Hunterian opened at the University of Glasgow in 1807, the collections have been developed in ways that reflect our city’s deep relationship with empire, transatlantic slavery, colonialism and migration. 

The Hunterian cares for some Scotland’s finest collections that cover subjects as diverse as the history of medicine, zoology and art. The whole collection is ‘Recognised’ as nationally significant in Scotland and includes outstanding Roman artefacts from the Antonine Wall; vast natural and life science collections; scientific instruments used by James Watt, Joseph Lister and Lord Kelvin; one of the world’s greatest collections of coins and medals and objects and belongings brought to Glasgow from around the world during hundreds of years of trade, empire, exploitation and migration. 

The Hunterian is also home to one of the most distinguished public art collections in Scotland and features works by James McNeill Whistler, the Glasgow Boys and Scottish Colourists, the largest single holding of the work of artists Margaret MacDonald and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, along with The Mackintosh House, the reassembled interiors from their Glasgow home. The Hunterian has also developed an important collection of works by leading contemporary artists including Christine Borland, Lucy Skaer and Adam Pendleton.

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First published: 20 September 2022