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Parliament Hall, part of Edinburgh’s old Parliament House, was used by the independent Scottish government until 1707. Beneath its dramatic hammer-beam roof, the king was offered a silver basin of rose-water during a banquet for three hundred. Sir Walter Scott’s son and nephew attended the bearer, while Yeomen of the Guard stood by. For Turner, sometimes criticised for his figure painting, to commence such a complex group portrait was hugely ambitious. The unfinished panel remains instead a hazy impression in crimson, white and gold. Its plunging perspective is mirrored in the companion view of St Giles’ Cathedral.

February 2010