2.5.4 Fountains, sundials and other ornamental sculpture

In the early modern period (from the Reformation of 1560 to the Enlightenment, i.e. about 1750), art historians have tended to draw a distinction between architectural sculpture and ‘sculpture’. The latter was considered to be a neglected art form when it was surveyed for the 1991 Virtue and Vision: Scotland and Sculpture 1540–1990 exhibition at Royal Scottish Academy, and its accompanying publication (Pearson 1991a). This project was described as ‘pioneering attempt’ to explore Scotland’s native sculptural tradition, charting when native Scottish sculpture ‘came of age’, which was considered to be from the second quarter of the 19th century (Clifford 1991). While this 1991 survey filled a gap, it was exclusively art-historical with a focus on sculpture ‘of consequence’ (ibid, 14), largely of the royal court and elite who had the means to patronize sculptors in any sustained way. Architectural carvings in places such as Rosslyn Chapel (Figure 38) and Stirling Castle were acknowledged to demonstrate the masons’ tradition (ibid, 10) and some ‘sculptures’ were designed for architectural settings, increasingly so in the 18th century (Baker 1991). Recent research has explored the iconographic programme of the sculptural decoration on the exterior of Stirling Palace (Figure 37; Harrison 2011).

Carvings in this period were produced in many media (a reminder of the need to take care in erecting boundaries between carved stones and other material artefacts in any period). They could also be produced by foreign masons, or under foreign influence (masons made good use of printed media), and some sculptures were also imported into Scotland.

Although it is generally perceived that carved stone featured little in the visual culture of early modern Scotland, the national adoption of Protestantism combined with rising wealth among the nobility and merchant class led to an increased desire for elaborate garden monuments. The rise in popularity of carved stone garden features stemmed specifically from the Protestant belief that decoration should have purpose. This hypothesis led to the commissioning of many fountains and, more frequently, sundials (Figure 44).

Marilyn Brown’s recent monograph on the lost gardens of Scotland references freestanding stone sculptures appearing at various locations throughout the early modern period (Brown 2012). The most comprehensive catalogue of 17th- and 18th-century Scottish sundials was, however, produced by Andrew Somerville (Somerville 19871990). Somerville’s list is particularly useful because it records both surviving and lost sundials. By including the latter, Somerville builds upon Thomas Ross’ original 19th-century account of Scottish sundials still standing (Ross 1890). Somerville splits the sundials into three categories: lectern, obelisk and facet-head. Due to their comparatively smaller number, there is no equivalent to Somerville’s catalogue for early modern Scottish fountains. The popularity and co-existence of fountains and sundials during this era in Scotland serves as a reminder of the early modern Scottish elite’s increased interest in science.

Colour photo of a sundial with round stepped base and pointed pinnacle in a garden

Figure 44: Late 17th-century sundial at Asknish House, Argyll and Bute. Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland

Not to be overlooked is the assemblages of architectural fragments and sculptural elements collected together and built into residences, particularly country houses and their gardens, in the 19th and 20th centuries. These ‘spolia’ might be brought to Scotland after the Grand Tour, imported, or sourced locally. William Burrell is probably the most famous exponent of this brief fad, which can also have a strong American connection. At Fyvie Castle, among a wide range of carved stone artefacts imported from the Continent, the NTS has a large collection of Venetian carved stone, probably 13th to 19th centuries, both built into the exterior of the early 20th-century racquets court and freestanding in the grounds. At Leith Hall, Charles Leith-Hay built various 16th-/17th-century architectural fragments of likely Scottish provenance into the exteriors of his late 19th-/early 20th-century additions to the building (pers comm. Shannon Fraser). The Hilton of Cadboll Pictish cross-slab was moved to the American Gardens of Invergordon Castle in about the 1860s (other carved stones were collected in the Castle), while Sir Walter Scott had earlier in the 19th century acquired the Woodrae cross-slab and built historic sculptures from Scotland and beyond into Abbotsford House and gardens (see Figure 88). This is important material in its own right, but also represents a fascinating development of elite taste in Scotland, in a tightly-defined period that merits further research.

For further reading, download the Section 10.5 pdf ( 325kb).

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