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

Published: 14 October 2022

A major new exhibition exploring the afterlife of Scotland’s most controversial monarch, Mary Queen of Scots, opens at the University of Glasgow.

An image of an actor dressed as Mary Queen of Scots in front of The Afterlife of Mary Queen of Scots exhibition

A major new exhibition exploring the afterlife of Scotland’s most controversial monarch, Mary Queen of Scots, opens at the University of Glasgow.

Inspired by the enduring interest in the life, and death, of the famous Scottish queen, this fascinating exhibition is at The Hunterian Art Gallery and 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.

The Afterlife of Mary Queen of Scots exhibition 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, led by Historian Dr Steven Reid and Curator Anne Dulau-Beveridge, was funded by a Royal Society of Edinburgh Research Network Grant.

The new exhibition - which runs until February 2023 in The Hunterian Art Gallery, draws 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 UofG's The Hunterian as well as, 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 Exhibition

The Afterlife of Mary Queen of Scots exhibition is at The Hunterian's 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 of Mary Queen of Scots: Rachel Maclean, The Queen, 2013. Courtesy the artist.

The Life and Afterlife of Mary Queen of Scots - FutureLearn Course

If you want to discover the life and lasting legacy of Mary Queen of Scots, you can enrol for the free University of Glasgow The Life and Afterlife of Mary Queen of Scots course via the FutureLearn platform which starts on Monday 31 October 2022



First published: 14 October 2022

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