The roundels at Falkland Palace are part of James V’s alterations and
building work, completed in 1541. James had spent time at the French court (as well as having two French wives) and he employed French masons to work on the palace. He was hoping to recreate some of the splendor of the French court here in Scotland, and he employed the French master masons Moses Martin and Nicolas Roy to create the glorious roundels you see at the palace today. The roundels are also significant as it is rare to have five carvings and portraits of females. Although the roundels of the South Range are currently hidden behind scaffolding whilst they undergo conservation, you can still see their companions on the ruined East Range.
All the roundels are made of sandstone and appear to have been build face-bedded into the building (rather than naturally-bedded). This means that the surface layers of the stone have deteriorated over time, in a process similar to the peeling of layers from an onion. Unfortunately, the surfaces of four of the heads have already been completely lost. However, the aim of the current conservation (part of our Year of Conservation at the palace) is to consolidate the roundels and prevent further loss and deterioration.
The first phase of conservation of the carved stone roundels on the South Range was from 7th-10th April. On the first day, the condition of the roundels was recorded and over the next few days some previous filler was removed. Below are some examples of the recording techniques used to document the stone (all the pictures were taken on the first day before any work began).
The roundels were then sprayed with Ethyl Silicate, a substance which helps to strengthen the stone. From 13th-29th April the roundels were then completely covered in order to protect them from the rain and sunshine. This gave the Ethyl Silicate time to set.
Today, 30th April, the roundels have been uncovered. The stones are now much stronger and the next stage, lasting until 15th May, can begin. Old filler, which has weathered, will be removed and a lime-based grout will be used to fill in air pockets and voids. For the outer wreath shaped decoration, where stone has already been lost, T-shaped ceramic supports will be added, as well as thin stainless steal rods where necessary.
If you visit Falkland Palace over the coming weeks, you will probably see the conservators on site working on the final stage of conservation. The finished work will be unveiled in November. This process will help to ensure that the roundels are preserved for future generations.