‘Renaissance: Scotland and Europe 1480–1630’ opens on Friday 21 June and runs until April next year at George IV Bridge, Edinburgh. Model: Liz Hamilton Credit: Phil Wilkinson

National Library of Scotland has its Renaissance moment

Scotland is rarely considered among the big players in the Northern Renaissance, something curators at the National Library of Scotland seek to remedy with a new exhibition opening on Friday (21 June) in Edinburgh.

Visitors to the exhibition will see books, manuscripts, maps and beautifully crafted objects from this cultural, intellectual and artistic movement, all within a sumptuous setting reminiscent of the time.

National Librarian Amina Shah said:

“Scotland emerged from the Middle Ages alongside its Continental cousins in a flurry of science and innovation, poetry, craft, music and philosophy. This activity, combined with international connections, breathed new life into towns and cities across the country. We welcome people of all ages and knowledge levels to visit the Library and get up close to some of the literary treasures and artefacts from this time.”

Curated by Dr Anette Hagan and Dr Ulrike Hogg, the exhibition explores life at court, Scotland’s literary, religious and scholarly connections with Europe, and showcases some of the people of the time. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to try their hand at some of the crafts of that era and are invited to contribute to a collaborative embroidery project.

Dr Anette Hagan said the exhibition highlights the “works of Scottish men and women both famous and nearly forgotten, in Scots, Gaelic, Latin and other European languages. You can encounter poems by King James VI and Mary, Queen of Scots, books written by refugees to and from Scotland, artefacts produced by a court jeweller, travel accounts from beyond Europe, a famous choir book and much more”.

“Esther Inglis, whose 400th anniversary takes place in 2024, is a particular focus. A true Renaissance woman, she was the daughter of Huguenot refugees who employed her exquisite craftsmanship in calligraphy and embroidery, and her connection to the court of James VI to ensure she and her family prospered. Esther Inglis is of such renown that her works not only feature in this exhibition, but our Treasures exhibition also.

“Inglis wasn’t alone in pursuing artistic brilliance. From the late 15th century to the early 17th century, Scottish scholars, writers, musicians and craftspeople travelled extensively throughout northern Europe to work, study and teach. When they returned, they brought with them thought-provoking ideas and achievements, soon to be interrogated, built upon, and exported once again to places such as France, the Low Countries, Scandinavia, and the Holy Roman Empire.

“Cultural exchange went both ways – Scotland also welcomed Europeans intent on expanding their network and collaborating with people living here. It was an exciting time to be a scholar or artist with an international outlook – of that we have no doubt.”

‘Renaissance: Scotland and Europe 1480–1630’ opens on Friday 21 June and runs until April next year at George IV Bridge, Edinburgh. It’s open Monday to Saturday and entry is free.

Contact Information

Barbara Burke

National Library of Scotland

+44131 623 3738

+447904 791002


Notes to editors

The National Library of Scotland 

The National Library of Scotland is a major European research library and one of the world’s leading centres for the study of Scotland and the Scots – an information treasure trove for Scotland’s knowledge, history and culture. 

The Library’s collections are of international importance. Key formats include rare books, manuscripts, maps, photographs, music, moving images and official publications. 

The Library holds more than 30 million physical items dating back more than 1,000 years as well as a growing library of digital material. Every week the Library collects around 5,000 new items. Most of these are received under Legal Deposit legislation, which allows the Library to claim a copy of everything published in the UK. 

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