The Great Hall Ceiling at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery – Edinburgh, Scotland - Atlas Obscura

One of the first things visitors notice after entering the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, right at its center, is the Great Hall, a massive work of art unto itself. A giant fresco mural surrounds the entire hall and features 155 important figures significant to Scottish history. Above them, one can find the Great Hall’s zodiacal ceiling.

The frieze of historical personages starts with Thomas Carlyle (the most recent figure at the time of its painting) and continues with the other famous Scots in reverse chronological order. On it, you can find James Watt, Adam Smith, David Hume, Robert the Bruce and Saint Ninian among many others. This mural was the work of English painter William Hole. Active during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Hole is recognized as one of the artists most important to public works in Edinburgh.

Hole was also the lead artist on designing the gallery’s Zodiac ceiling. This artwork features more than 2,000 golden stars and around 47 constellations sprawling across the ceiling, making the Great Hall the perfect place for anyone who wants to do a bit of stargazing, even on a rainy day. 

Hole was personally selected for these works by John Ritchie Findlay (the proprietor of The Scotsman newspaper), who paid for the National Portrait Gallery as well as the construction of the building that houses it. This building was designed by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson, and the Gallery opened in 1889, already featuring Hole’s masterpieces in the Great Hall.

Know Before You Go

Open daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Free admission, although some exhibitions do charge. A stargazer's map can be picked up at the information desk free of charge.

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