Our treasures display offered the chance to see a selection of some delightfully illustrated poetry books in our rare books collections. Ran from Thursday 12 April to Sunday 17 June 2018.
'Illustrating Scottish poets' focuses on works by Allan Ramsay, James Thomson, Robert Burns, Robert Fergusson, and the legendary bard Ossian.
The display uses illustrations of their poems to demonstrate the evolution of 18th-century Scottish book illustration and its establishment as a patriotic visual culture.
Scottish illustrations begin
Until the late 18th-century, illustrated editions of the works of great Scottish poets were not produced and published in Scotland. Instead, illustrated works were published in London and then reprinted in Scotland, often as poorer quality derivatives.
Scottish booksellers sought to change this tradition, and by the 1780s, a new practice of independent Scottish literary book illustration had begun. Scottish book illustrations became so popular that by the 1790s, they started to be sold in London, reversing the trend at the start of the century.
Scottish publishers commissioned artists to produce original visual interpretations of some of Scotland's most celebrated literary works. For the first time, editions of works such as Ramsay's 'The Gentle Shepherd', Burns's 'Tam o' Shanter', and Thomson's 'The Seasons' became accompanied by visual representations inspired by their native Scotland.
'The Gentle Shepherd'
Scenes from Allan Ramsay's pastoral drama offered inspiration for illustrators.
More about illustrating 'The Gentle Shepherd'
Interpretations of the four seasons in the Scottish landscape brought James Thomson's work to new life.
More about illustrating 'The Seasons'
Robert Burns's poems
Robert Burns's 'Tam o' Shanter' provided ample opportunity for the creative imagination of engravers.
More about illustrating Burns's poems
Robert Fergusson's poems
Robert Fergusson's poems were spirited and often humorous, which was reflected in different illustrations of his work.
More about illustrating Fergusson's poems
'The Poems of Ossian'
Legendary characters from the Ossian cycle fired the creativity of Scottish book illustrators.
More about illustrating Ossian
A common theme throughout the illustrations of the different poets' work is the use of landscape. Memorable scenes from many of the works were depicted against the iconic Scottish countryside, reinforcing their national place and significance.
Also on show in our display is a selection of landscape illustrations, demonstrating the development of this art form in the 18th century.