ITIS the ultimate biscuit tin image of Scotland: a bulky stag set against the violet hills and watery skies of an isolated wilderness. Monarch of the Glen usually hangs in the Museum of Scotland, on loan from the company Diageo. From April 14 it provides the centrepiece for a new Landseer exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy.

In reproduction you'll find it everywhere, from the set of Coronation Street to guesthouses. Subsequent artists have mocked it, subverted it or tried to emulate it. The BBC named a primetime drama after it. The world may be changing fast, but the Monarch persists.

It was, of course, created by an Englishman. When Sir Edwin Landseer made the painting in 1851, he set out to create a metropolitan icon: a sporting image of the Highlands destined for the heart of the establishment, the refreshment room of the House of Lords. The commission was never agreed, but the work was completed and sold to a private buyer. It marks the moment that the Victorian cult of the Highlands took on a new tenor. From the celebration of a particular culture - the aristocratic retreat into sporting life and social fantasy in the face of pressures that included industrialisation and the widening of the suffrage, Landseer tried to carve a deeper symbolic image. It is a potent new image of the British Empire as much as a wellconnected Victorian Londoner's idea of Scotland.

It has been criticised as a mockery of the often-brutal reality of Highland life. It has been praised as a tourist icon and the harbinger of a new culture of Britishness. We asked some modern Scots if Landseer's beast is a blessing or a burden.

James Robertson is a novelist and poet and was recently writer-inresidence at the Scottish parliament. His last novel Joseph Knight received the Saltire Prize.

"If Walter Scott had a big influence on Landseer, Scott himself responded very favourably to Landseer. You can see the common ground - the sentimental love of hunting, the 'romance' of man versus nature, the 'magnificence' of wild animals and wild scenery. To my mind the Monarch of the Glen is Waverley without the irony: it's the film poster for The Lady of the Lake.

"Is it a redundant image? As an emblem of this country or of the Highlands, yes. It suggests that Scotland is empty, untamed and the playground of royalty and aristocratic huntsmen. It does have a contemporary value, however: it tells us so much about how a certain kind of Victorian perceived Scotland, and this is historically and culturally important. The stag has a supercilious curl on its lip - a bit too anthropomorphic for my taste. In the 1980s for one of the covers of the magazine Radical Scotland we superimposed the head of Margaret Thatcher on the Monarch - I think the superciliousness carried over pretty well!"

Willie Forbes, formerly head stalker on the Mar Lodge Estate, is a wildlife artist based in Braemar. He specialises in paintings, sculpture and taxidermy: particularly "anything with deer in it".

"I think the Monarch of the Glen epitomises the deer and Scotland in one painting. It's the ultimate stag.

You could say it is too perfect, I think that Landseer spent too much time in London and at Windsor Deer Park: the head is a perfect hill stag, the body is that of a park stag which would be twice the weight of a hill stag. Deer is the great symbol of Scotland, I think it should replace the thistle. In every Highland village you come across these images. As a stalker your job is to teach people about the ways of the countryside.

Killing isn't the important thing; it's spending time on the hill with the deer. At night you see these men with their immaculate fingernails and black ties. Stalking can turn them into a wreck. It can be the hardest experience of their lives."

Mary Ann Kennedy is a traditional musician and broadcaster. As a singer she has won both gold medals at the National Mod, and is twice winner of the International Celtic Harp competition.

"These days I think that Scotland is more Land Rover than Landseer.

I do think, though, the picture is very real. Deer are very beautiful things, but I do worry about running into them on my way down to Glasgow!

The images portrayed by Landseer are real. That thing of Scotland as a Victorian playground is a real thing that happened. You just need to subvert it to your own ends. You can't just pick and choose the things in history that you approve of. It's like the issue around Gaelic, no-one is trying to shove it down people's throats. You have to accept that these are all valid aspects of culture.

The painting itself? I like it, but I wouldn't have it in my house. I'm more likely to eat him!"

Nick Maguire is the managing director of Maguire Advertising.

Among his recent branding campaigns is Glasgow: Scotland with Style for the Greater Glasgow & Clyde Valley Tourist Board.

"Monarch of the Glen has its place. It is a memorable image and it has stood the test of time. I'm interested that these days a company such as Glenfiddich has used what is essentially a live action version of the same thing in its recent advertising.

A stag is a beautiful thing, and I think it's a terrific idea.

"The image has a major part to play in marketing Scotland. There is a huge market out there for whom the natural environment is important. The stag is part of that and it is a selling point.

"We're not saying that it's all tartan and whisky, but we shouldn't dismiss what is a good idea."

The artist Ross Sinclair lives in Argyll. His work has explored many aspects of Scottish identity. Later this year his exhibition at Aberdeen Art Gallery begins a series of shows across the UK, pairing his work with that of Landseer.

"You could take the moral high ground over it, but everything I've done in my art, from my exhibition Real Life Rocky Mountain in Glasgow to running about the Highlands singing traditional song, has touched on these kind of images of Scotland. They're really in me and a part of me.

"It's an enduring fascination, how this English Victorian animal painter serving up this kind of rubbish became such a strong part of our selfimage. Maybe I'm a sucker for the romantic imagery. I'm interested in the history of the painting: it would have been an image of Scotland right at the heart of government in the Palace of Westminster.

"I'm working with Landseer's paintings to investigate the notion of what is Scotland, where is it and how did it come about? Identifying the links of this chain and asking how this amounts to our national identity."

Sir Edwin Landseer

THE Victorian animal painter Sir Edwin Landseer was born in Marylebone in 1802. A child prodigy, he won the silver palette of the Royal Society of Arts for his animal drawings when he was just 11 years old. He was exhibiting at the Royal Academy at 13. Good-looking and highly talented, he was a favourite among his teachers and introduced early to the society figures and intellectuals of his age. In 1824 Landseer set sail for his first visit to Scotland - such was his sea-sickness he had to complete the journey by land - where he was introduced to the aristocracy, their sporting estates and his literary hero Sir Walter Scott, whose Waverley edition he would later illustrate.

As painter and sculptor, Landseer came to epitomise "Balmorality", the aristocratic cult of the Highlands, with his hunting scenes, domestic interiors and family images of the landed at play against a romantic, rugged and frequently empty landscape. Famously, he was to become Queen Victoria's favourite artist. Contemporary rumours had it that Landseer and Georgiana, Duchess of Bedford, were lovers and that the artist fathered her daughter Lady Rachel Russell.

Despite social and artistic success, Landseer's life was blighted by episodes of manic depressive illness after a major breakdown in 1840.

He continued to work, but after years of alcohol and drug dependence he was declared lunatic in 1872 and died the following year.