This room will have eavesdropped on thousands upon thousands of whisperings and conversations over the centuries. But none so earnest, none so explorative and none so raucous as those of the students who dined here when Riddle’s Court was a University Hall of Residence. Patrick Geddes was a man who enjoyed discussing ideas and bringing people together.
Meal times are the perfect time for both. And as a stimulus for the conversations he envisaged taking place, Geddes commissioned the ultimate talking-piece – a picture storybook painted on each of the panels of the ceiling.
Thomas K Bonnar
Thomas K Bonnar supervised the painting and he and four of the contributing artists are named on one of the panels. It was an ambitious undertaking and the panels illustrate a pageant of historical events and allusions, prominent Edinburgh citizens and snippets of Geddes’ philosophical musings.
The profusion of leaves, plants and flowers is testimony to Geddes’ belief that ‘by leaves we live’, a statement underscoring our utter dependence on the natural world and a sentiment that presages what we now call sustainability.
Some scholars think that the ceiling’s heraldic design was inspired by the early 17th Century plasterwork in the Seton Room next door but its style draws heavily on the Celtic Renaissance and the Arts and Crafts movement.
Historical panels include those relating to John McMorran (17) who built Riddle’s Court in 15987 King James VI (8) and the royal banquet of 1598 (10).
Leading figures from the world of learning include John Napier (4) who invented logarithms and today has a University named after him, the Enlightenment Philosopher David Hume (24) who lived nearby in 1751. Another Scottish Enlightenment figure, Sir John Clerk of Penicuik (1676-1755), lawyer, politician, man of letters and landscape designer is referenced in panel 12.