Stirling’s admirable art gallery and museum, The Smith, was recently threatened with closure because of cuts in local government finances.

Happily, with a petition of more than 11,000 names  in its support, the imminent threat has been removed. But it was a reminder of just how much cultural wealth the classical stone building in the lee of the castle escarpment contains, and the rich insights into the past it offers.

A decade ago, it was the only public setting in Scotland for an exhibition of priceless Leonardo da Vinci drawings from the Royal Collection.

The poem below imagines the great Renaissance painter visiting the royal burgh in the reign of James IV.

LEONARDO PONDERS SCOTLAND (Leonardo da Vinci, 1452-1519)

This Scozia - or should I say Ecosse?

(Bearing in mind my latest patron,

Good King Louis Twelfth of France) –

Is it not a bleak and barren place

Upon the north-west fringes of the world,

Of little interest to a Titan of the Renaissance:
Artist, engineer, and scientist in equal measure?


And yet you say this little land two centuries ago,

Articulated views on freedom, and

The rights of subjects against tyrants,

Astounding in their boldness. Go tell that to

Our warring, avaricious dukes of Italy.

They are of course fine patrons of us artists

(Particularly when it suits them to add lustre

To their names through our creative marvels:

Consider that Medici prince, Lorenzo the Magnficent,

Or Cesare Borgia, my old Romagnan master).


You point out now that Scotland’s king,

Your James the Fourth, is also an enlightened

Champion of the Arts, encouraging a

polyphonic master by the name of Carver;

And that a major poet called Dunbar

Graces the Scottish court. His ponderings

On mortality – timor mortis conturbat me –

Have power to trouble my own Latin soul.

              (to be concluded tomorrow)