Case Study 19: Cradle of Scotland exhibition

Stephen Driscoll

Sculpture remains the most substantial legacy of the Pictish royal palace of Forteviot, the site of Kenneth mac Alpine’s death in AD 858, but the collection is dilapidated and widely dispersed. It consists of the arch built into the Museum of Scotland (NMS), Edinburgh; the Dupplin Cross housed in St Serf’s, Dunning; and miscellaneous fragments curated by the Forteviot Kirk Session. Until recently the fragments were stored loose in the parish: uninterpreted, prone to accidental damage, in truth little more than clutter.

The sculpture featured prominently in the 2015 ‘Cradle of Scotland’ exhibition staged at the Hunterian Museum and the Perth Museum and Art Gallery. The exhibit presented the results of the Strathearn Environs & Royal Forteviot (SERF) archaeological research project to an international audience at the European Association of Archaeologists’ Annual Meeting and to the public. This not only provided a context for the sculpture, but also served as an opportunity to bring together the dispersed sculptural elements. By good fortune, the SERF project and the Cradle exhibition coincided with the Tayside Landscape Partnership, funded by the HLF, which financially supported the sculpture display and provided the opportunity to create a permanent legacy for Forteviot. 

The central challenge posed by the sculpture was to convey the importance of the original monuments based upon the damaged fragments. Benefiting from a strong research platform provided by Mark Hall and Ian G Scott, it was possible to reimagine the original form of the sculptures with confidence. This understanding guided the creation of the display mounts and lighting scheme by Richard West, which allow the fine qualities of the sculpture to be appreciated. In the exhibition the fragments were displayed alongside life-size ‘cardboard cut-outs’ produced from blown-up Scott drawings. These allowed the non-specialist to appreciate the monumentality of the original work and better understand the fragments. 

The two most impressive Forteviot stones, the arch and the Dupplin Cross, were unavailable for the exhibition, so they were displayed virtually using animated 3D visualisations. The Digital Design Studio (Glasgow School of Art)/CDDV had previously scanned the Dupplin Cross for HS at a high resolution, which allowed the absent cross to be projected at life-size and to command the gallery. The digital formal allowed the design team to experiment with how the sculpture might have looked if originally painted. A rotating animation of the cross highlighted particular details and provided a dynamic interpretative presentation.

Currently the Forteviot arch occupies an inaccessible, unsympathetic position in the Museum of Scotland. Using digital technology it was possible to bring out hidden sculptural detail and to recover its original architectural character. Photogrammetry was used to create a 3D model, which was also ‘painted’ to highlight key features and the 3D model was placed in an animation showing its likely position in an early medieval church.

The exhibitions has transformed the public appreciation of the fragments by making them attractive and intelligible, it has enhanced academic understanding, and has created a tangible legacy in the form of a permanent sculpture display in Forteviot church.

A display of stone fragments and interpretation boards within a museum gallery

Figure 1: The Cradle of Scotland exhibition at The Hunterian Gallery. ©  Stephen Driscoll

A 3D computer illustration of a stone cross with colour used to digitally paint the cross to show how it may have looked when made

Figure 2: A screenshot of the Dupplin Cross animation. Created by the Centre for Digital Documentation and Visualisation LLP and Stephen Driscoll

Return to Section 3.3: Recording

Return to Section 6.2.5: Through presentation and displays

Leave a Reply