The ceiling of Skelmorlie aisle: a narrative articulated in paint

Callaghan, Angela (2013) The ceiling of Skelmorlie aisle: a narrative articulated in paint. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The intention of this thesis was to demonstrate that, with in-depth analysis, a carefully and deliberately constructed narrative could be revealed within the ceiling paintings of Skelmorlie Aisle, Largs, Scotland (c.1638). The ceiling adorned a burial aisle, which was erected by Sir Robert Montgomerie, seventh of Skelmorlie, in honour of his wife, Dame Margaret Douglas. The paintings, executed by Edinburgh apprentice James Stalker, are the only surviving example of the genre signed and dated by the artist. The ceiling was composed of forty-one individual compartments each one containing different combinations of emblems, designs, human figures, animals, birds and heraldic representations. Of the forty-one compartments, four of these contained landscape paintings, depicting the seasons, and their associated labours. Two unusual paintings were also executed each containing representations of a female figure on the land and by the sea. By a study of semiotics, this dissertation systematically re-constructed the narrative concealed within the paintings. This revealed the intrinsic meaning of the iconography. The thesis argued that simple observation revealed very little information relating to the understanding of the paintings and in-depth study was required to elucidate this.
The narrative began with an exploration of seventeenth-century nobility with a particular focus on the patron, Sit Robert Montgomerie of Skelmorlie. It then considered the role of architecture and design in Early Modern Scotland with a discussion on domestic architecture and burial aisles. An exploration into the painted ceiling in seventeenth-century Scotland was also included as was a consideration of the role of the artist and patron. A focus on the sources available to artists in Scotland during the Early Modern period, followed with a particular investigation into those used within the ceiling iconography of Skelmorlie Aisle. Whether it was intended that the ceiling iconography was to be read in a specific order was also included. These initial stages provided a platform from which an in-depth analysis of the iconography within the paintings, could be undertaken. The methodology applied here was that composed by German born art historian Erwin Panofsky. Panofsky argued that identifying objects, shapes and forms did not convey why certain components were chosen or what they meant. The first step was to ascertain the genesis of the sources, as this provided a greater understanding of the narrative and why they were chosen by Montgomerie. The research revealed that, with the exception of generic designs of floral patterns and scrollwork, the iconography within the paintings was not chosen at random; each component was selected for a very specific reason. When all of the factors were considered and the iconography analysed in depth, the full narrative became exposed.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Skelmorlie Aisle, painted ceiling, Scottish art
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
N Fine Arts > NK Decorative arts Applied arts Decoration and ornament
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Humanities > History
Supervisor's Name: Henderson, Dr. Lizanne
Date of Award: 2013
Depositing User: Dr Angela Callaghan
Unique ID: glathesis:2013-4891
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 05 Feb 2014 14:26
Last Modified: 17 Feb 2017 13:37

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