The Queen Mary harp

Queen Mary harp

The Queen Mary harp is “one of the finest examples of Medieval Art produced in Scotland”, according to the National Museum of Scotland1. It is covered all over with amazingly high quality and beautiful carving, engraving and painting. The decoration on the harp was exhaustively described and illustrated by Robert Bruce Armstrong in 19042.

The decoration includes a number of pieces of Christian symbolism suggesting that the harp may have been made or decorated as a commission for a church or monastery3. The vine-scrolls and the animals have clear parallels with 15th century West Highland grave slabs of the Iona school4, suggesting that this is the time and place that the harp was made or decorated.

The decoration on the harp is of two very different types. The forepillar, and the “eyebrows” at the top of the soundboard have distinctive 15th century West Highland carving, while the rest of the soundbox and the neck bear very different and more ancient-looking geometric lines and circles.

The decoration of the Queen Mary harp should be compared with the decoration on the Trinity College harp - they are remarkably similar in general scheme and layout, with the same kinds of ideas being used in the same places. The specific motifs, and the artistic styles, are quite different between the two harps, but the general structure and arrangement of the decoration on these two harps is remarkably similar.

Simon Chadwick


1. Angels, Nobles & Unicorns (HMSO/NMS 1982). ^

2. R.B. Armstrong, The Irish and Highland Harps. David Douglas, Edinburgh, 1904, p. 168-183. Photos, many line drawings of elevation and details, and extremely comprehensive written description. ^

3. Keith Sanger & Alison Kinnaird, Tree of Strings, Kinmor 1992 ^

4. K.A. Steer & J.W.M. Bannerman, Late Medieval Monumental Sculpture in the West Highlands, RCAHM, Edinburgh, 1977 ^