The idea of antiquity in visual images of the Highlands and Islands c.1700-1880
This thesis addresses the textual bias inherent in the historiography by exploring the value of visual images as a source of evidence for cultural perceptions of the Gàidhealtachd. Visual images stood at the sharp end of the means by which stereotypes were forged and sustained. In part, this was a direct result of the special role afforded to the image in the cultural and intellectual climate of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment Europe. This thesis looks at the evolution of visual interest in the Highlands and Islands on two fronts, documentary and aesthetic, and pays particular attention to the way in which the two main functions of the image in society came to be intertwined. This thesis argues that the concept of antiquity was the single most powerful influence driving the visual representation of the Highlands and Islands during a long period from c. 1700 to around 1880, and indeed into the twentieth century. If something could be regarded as ancient, aboriginal, dead, or even dying, it acquired both documentary and aesthetic value. This applied to actual antiquities, to customs and manners perceived as indigenous and ‘traditional’ to the region, and, ultimately, even to the physical landscape. Successive chapters explore what might now be classified as the archaeological, ethnological and geological motives for visualising the Highlands and Islands, and the bias in favour of antiquity which resulted from the spread of intellectual influences into the fine arts. The shadow of time which hallmarked visual representations of the region resulted in a preservationist mentality which has had powerful repercussions down to the present day. The body of evidence considered – which embraces maps, plans, paintings, drawings, sketches and printed images by both professionals and amateurs – must be viewed as a rich and valuable companion to the written word.