Painting the profile : imagery and identity in the art collections of King's and Marischal Colleges, 1495-1860
Founded in Aberdeen's post-Reformation New Town, Marischal College challenged the autonomy previously enjoyed by King's College from its location in the erstwhile Catholic seat of Old Aberdeen. Thereafter, the promotion of its individual identity was to prove pivotal to each college's agenda for superiority. The coincidental ascendance of secular portraiture, coupled with a popular desire for its public display, provided a particular mechanism for the two colleges to conduct their campaigns of rivalry. Amongst the universities in Scotland this conscious deployment of art as an instrument of propaganda was unique to Aberdeen. The acquisition and display of paintings using deliberately codified religious imagery enabled King's College to assert its sense of continuity in the wake of the exigencies imposed by the Covenanting forces. At Marischal, strategy was dictated from the late seventeenth century by a distinctly Jacobite agenda. But after the unsuccessful Jacobite Rising of 1715 both colleges vied to acquire and display portraits that would publicly demonstrate the degree of their political rehabilitation. Integral to their strategies was the role of indigenous artists and, beginning with George Jamesone in the seventeenth century, these relationships brought works into both colleges until and beyond their eventual fusion in 1860. Further, they bore witness to the artist's social evolution form artisan to professional. Tensions between the colleges were sharpened by the expansion in areas of knowledge and experience that constituted the Enlightenment. Ironically, locked into an increasingly bitter struggle for independent survival, the subjects of works acquired predicted that the new demands for modern teaching in appropriate premises would hasten the demise of their separate existences.