A painting of ‘Sappho’ from Scotland is on display at the National Portrait Gallery

16th century Sappho in SCOTLAND, who was shunned for centuries, now has pride of place in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.

The Scots language is also used for the first time at the gallery in the text alongside the imagined portrait of Marie Maitland.

If visitors respond positively, it is hoped that Scots will be used more often in the future.

Maitland, who died in 1596, was a member of the politically important Maitlands family of Lethington, East Lothian. But while his poems feature in the valuable 16th-century Maitland Quarto manuscript, his contribution has been largely ignored, even though his writing is considered to be one of the earliest – if not the earliest – example of Sapphic verse in Europe, in n any language. , from Sappho itself.

Researcher Ashley Douglas said it was “a pretty cool claim to fame for Scots and Scotland”.

“It’s really out of the ordinary, remarkable for its 16th century context,” she said.

However, although portraits of male members of the Maitland family have survived, there were none of the poet – a lack which was remedied by an “imagined” portrait influenced by surviving portraits of her brothers.

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This has now been exhibited at the gallery curated by Kate Anderson (above), called James’s People, which highlights some of the lesser-known figures who lived and worked in Scotland during the reign of James VI

It is shown next to Maitland’s Poem 49 in Scots, which is about his love for another woman. The text accompanying the imagined portrait and reproduction of the poem is in Scottish and English, an innovation for the gallery.

“We’ve had texts in Gaelic before, but never in Scots,” said Anderson, senior curator of European and Scottish art and portraiture.

“I thought it was a great opportunity to bring it in because Scots was the language spoken at the time and it was the language used by Marie and the majority of her poems are written there.

“We don’t have many examples of 16th century female Scottish writers, which is why she’s so important and imagined portraiture works well in this case, because it means we can actually put a face to the woman. ”

Although Maitland’s signature is on the manuscript of 95 poems, it is not on poem 49 – but has been identified as hers by Douglas.

In the poem, Maitland expresses her desire to marry the woman she loves, but Douglas said her lesbian significance was overlooked as she was “hiding in plain sight”.

“Obviously she was an elite woman, educated and literate,” she said. “Furthermore, one of the other anonymous poems in the manuscript compares her directly to known female poets, including the historic Greek poetess Sappho of Lesvos – famous as a female poet and (in)famous for her romantic entanglements with other other women.

“All of this indicates that Marie had a reputation as a female poet – and one in the likeness of Sappho.”

She added that even if it was a poem about female friendship, it would still have been “well ahead of its time and worth getting excited about”.

“Only male friendship was written and only males were considered capable of forming meaningful friendships – females not being emotionally developed enough for that, of course.”

Douglas pointed out that although female homosexual activity was not formally criminalized in the same way as male homosexual activity, deviation from norms was not well tolerated, so he was “incredibly brave” for the poet to articulate as clearly romantic and sexual. want another woman.

The poem showed, Douglas said, that there had always been gay people in Scotland, although it was often “extremely difficult” to find evidence in historical records.

“What’s irrefutable, and what’s important, is that it shows us that there have always been people who have romantic and sexual attractions to people of the same sex – no matter what they called it, or didn’t call it, and whoever they were or who they might not have been,” Douglas said.

“Gay people in Scotland have always existed, just as they have always existed elsewhere.”

There is no end date for James’s People exhibition and the gallery is free to enter and welcomes all ages.

Julia P. Cluff