The centuries-old paintings hung together in one of Scotland’s leading galleries tell the story of one of the most turbulent periods in the nation’s history.
Their subjects were all key players in the Stewart Dynasty as dramatic changes in the country’s monarchy, church and parliament unfolded during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Now one of the historical figures is at the centre of a new episode of intrigue after their portrait was removed overnight and replaced with a fake.
The Scottish National Portrait Gallery has given permission for a specially-commissioned copy to be hung in place of a painting of national importance for a new TV series.
It is one of seven UK galleries where visitors are being challenged to identify fake portraits drawn from different episodes of British art history.
Copies have been created by seven un-named contemporary artists, whose identity will be revealed during each episode.
As well as being hidden “in plain sight” in the galleries, the seven displays where the fakes have been planted are also available to examine online.
Anyone who is able to spot all seven fakes will get the chance to take part in the finale of the programme, with the prize of a specially-commissioned copy up for grabs.
Galleries in Wirral, Liverpool, Cardiff, Manchester and London have also agreed to install copies for the whole of July to take part in the Sky Arts series – Fake! The Great Masterpiece Challenge – which will go on air in January.
The ten paintings put forward for the Scottishshow are all featured in the portrait gallery’s Reformation to Revolution display, which explores the huge religious upheaval, power shifts and cultural changes in Scotland during the final years of the reign of the Stewarts.
Portraits of exiled monarch Mary Queen of Scots, her husband Lord Darnley, her mother Mary of Guise, and the Scottish kings Charles II, James V and James VI are among the possible fakes on the display in the gallery at the moment.
Christopher Baker, director of the portrait gallery, said: “This exciting new series and competition will encourage visitors to look very closely at a key part of our great collection, learn about early portraits and understand how they came to be made.
“It is going to be a hugely enjoyable challenge for anyone who gives it a try, and it will be interesting to see just how many people are able to spot the copy, which has been created in secret by an extraordinarily talented artist.”
Phil Edgar-Jones, director of Sky Arts, said: “You don’t have to be an art historian to have a go at this – all you need is a sense of curiosity and an eye for detail.”