THERE was no sign of three wise men, shepherds watching flocks or even the infant Jesus lying in a manger when Alex Salmond unveiled another secular First Ministerial Christmas card yesterday.
Instead, recipients of seasonal greetings from Mr Salmond will be treated to a copy of a very fine work by Dame Elizabeth Blackadder, the painter regarded as Scotland’s greatest living female artist.
Dame Elizabeth’s painting of a selection of native Scottish plants and flowers was chosen by Mr Salmond to celebrate the beauty of the Scottish countryside and to encourage people to go outdoors.
Concentrating on summer flowers found in the wild and in Scottish gardens, there was no room in the picture for traditional Christmas images such as holly, ivy or mistletoe.
Mr Salmond explained that the summer theme tied in with the fact that next year will be the Year of Natural Scotland.
He said: “Throughout 2013 we will celebrate the outstanding and diverse beauty of this country in the Year of Natural Scotland, where we encourage people to get out and enjoy what the great outdoors has to offer.
“It is therefore fitting that my official Christmas card this year will feature a painting by Dame Elizabeth Blackadder whose work is well known for its celebration of nature through its flower and plant motifs.”
Mr Salmond said he was “thrilled” that Dame Elizabeth had agreed to design his Christmas card at the unveiling ceremony at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
Mr Salmond said: “Her beautiful image shows a vivid array of common flowers and plants that can be seen in the wilds or gardens of Scotland.”
Dame Elizabeth said she was “very pleased” to have been asked to paint the image and “delighted that it will help support the work of four good causes in Scotland”.
Since 2007, sales of the original artwork from the First Minister’s Christmas cards and limited edition prints have raised £131,000 for charity.
Dame Elizabeth is the latest in a line of famous artists to produce a card for the First Minister.
Her efforts will prove less controversial than some of her predecessors. In 2009, a design titled A New Journey by Gerard Burns, in which the Saltire figured prominently, was criticised by some of Mr Salmond’s opponents for being too Nationalist.
Dame Elizabeth is also following in the footsteps of the novelist and artist Alistair Gray, whose work Bella Caledonia was chosen last year.
Dame Elizabeth, who was born in Falkirk, was the first woman to be elected to both the Royal Scottish Academy and Royal Academy.
A graduate of both Edinburgh College of Art and Edinburgh University, she was appointed a painter to the Queen in 2001.
The original image will be auctioned with proceeds shared by Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Dyslexia Scotland, the Scottish Steelworkers Memorial Fund and the Sick Kids Friends Foundation - a charity chosen by Dame Elizabeth.