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Hugh Cheape

National Museums of Scotland

The Bagpipe Player by Abraham Bloemaert c. 1625 engraved by Comelis Bloemuert

Portraits of pipers and likenesses of any kind of musicians are few and far between before the mid-nineteenth century. Where they do exist, and there are extraordinary portrayals such as Albrecht Durer’s etching of a piper dated “AD 1514”, they are anonymous figures or their identity is lost.(1)

Portraiture has generally been a celebration of fame, wealth, rank and status, and was     confined in earlier centuries to the upper echelons of society, Other folk were represented in type - portraits or genre painting, used for moral instruction or entertainment. Singers and musicians were certainly depicted but their presence symbolic and their personality representational. For the scholar and musicologist looking for detail and graphic evidence, the musician is often caricature and instrument cartoon, misunderstood and misrepresented.

In Scotland, the large portrait in oils of the “Piper to the Laird of Grant” of 1714 in the   collections of the National Museums of Scotland, is exceptional for its early date. No   comparable details exist for Highland pipers before the portrait of Angus Mackay, Queen Victoria’s piper, and John MacGregor of the Glen Lyon family of Clann an Sgeulaiche in the early nineteenth century. The pipers of the Lowlands may seem to be better served with the memorable portrait of Geordie Syme of Dalkeith by John Kay, and vivid pen portraits of the Hasties of Jedburgh, Neil Blane in Scott’s Old Mortality, and Habbie Simpson, the   seventeenth-century Town Piper of Kilbarchan in Renfrewshire.

The “Piper to the Laird of Grant” is a large portrait in oil on canvas, measuring 214 x 154 cm and is signed and dated by Richard Waitt who painted a remarkable series of portraits for the Clan Grant of the north east Highlands between 1713 and 1726. Nowhere else in Europe is there a similar gallery of clan portraits, of Chieftains, kinsmen and retainers. A measure of its exceptional nature may be taken by the fact that the painting was acquired by private treaty sale for the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland in 1976. Paintings and portraits are not normally the stock-in-trade of national museums, being pre-eminently the province of the national galleries, but they are acquired for the national collections from time to time as documents of social history or material culture.(2)

The piper is nameless on the portrait although, as the artist has recorded, the painting is a likeness of the man painted ad vivum, “after life”, and significant details are emphasised for his office as “Piper to the Laird of Grant”, a uniform of livery, the tartan, a heraldic banner, and the Laird’s mansion-house or castle in the background. Research has shown that the Piper is William Cumming of Glenbeg, born about 1685 and died in late 1723, aged about

38. Remarkably he was one of a family succession of musicians who served the Lairds of Grant hereditarily over about 150 years through at least six (and probably more) generations, from the seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries.(3)

There are other named piper portraits of the eighteenth century but it is the contention of this essay that most or all of these are type-portraits or stock imagery which appear in     different guises in different countries of Europe. Certain telling details show these to be a collateral series of portraits presenting an image derived from a common ancestor or exemplar, and often dressed up for local consumption. Recently published enumeration, analysis and interpretation of the Dutch Bloemaert corpus has thrown considerably more light on the image of a piper which is repeated many times over in Europe between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries.(4)

A detail that is repeated and which draws comment from specialists is the instrument itself. The portrait shows a mouth-blown bag-pipe with chanter and drones turned of wood and embellished with metal mounts, The larger drone, nearest the viewer, has at least two joints with a discernable tuning slide; the top joint has a pronounced trumpet shaped mouth, bearing comparison with the bell end of the chanter, and the smaller drone, in its own stock, lies close to the larger but makes less sense in musicological terms. This begs the question of how accurately the artist has observed his subject and what drone harmony can be inferred. It may be suggested that the larger drone is tuned in unison with the keynote of the chanter or possibly an octave lower.

The clearest exemplar of pipe portraits is this particular painting by the Dutch artist, Abraham Bloemaert. The “Bagpipe Player” is in the collections of the of the Residenzgalerie in Salzburg, It is a painting on panel of 86.5 x 68 cm. The painting was subsequently engraved and published as a print by his son, Cornelis Bloemaert, within the artist’s lifetime, and the print itself certifies that the “Bagpipe Player” was painted by Abraham Bloemaert.

The artist was born in 1566 and died in Utrecht in 1651. His active and successful painting career spans the years 1610 to 1650 and he is considered as one of the important masters of the Dutch art. The emphasis in his chosen themes is on the Old and New Testaments, classical scenes, landscapes and “genre” pieces, that is the artistic style of reproducing scenes from contemporary family or country life. Bloemaert fairly represents the Utrecht school of Dutch art, and was the country’s foremost Roman Catholic artist at a time when Utrecht was a stronghold of Catholicism in the united Provinces, His genre pieces represent a minor   corpus of his surviving work in comparison with his religious painting and, in fact, the Bagpipe Player is one of the only one or two paintings of musicians by Bloemaert.

The “Flutist” of 1621 is described as the only other musician painting but the musicologist would recognise Bloemaert’s remarkable “Boy with a Rumbling Pot” as an important musician portrait. This painting, of the same period as the “Bagpipe Player” and about 1625, shows a boy in carnival fashion performing for charity on Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday. He is playing on the rommelpot consisting of a skin stretched over an earthenware pot partly filled with water and activated by a small plunger. Significantly, in eastern Europe, this   instrument is called a “pottery bagpipe” (e.g., Hungarian Kocsog duda) and produces a throbbing sound used in musical accompaniment.

In creating genre scenes, Bloemaert may have been influenced by Renaissance paintings of groups of musicians on the one hand and by the work of Caravaggio and early Baroque styles on the other, observing real people in a physical world and abandoning the earlier Platonic ideal of representing human and religious experience through idealised types. Bloemaert also seems to avoid distortion and caricature or the introduction of erotic undertones often apparent in late medieval bagpipe pictures, There is social comment implicit in the portrait, The bagpipe is clearly a rustic folk instrument in the Low Countries by the early seventeenth century; this is not a musician who would be performing in a concert group.

The player wears a grey suit and a red shirt, and a large grey hat with a conspicuous white and yellow feather in it. The feather is a notable feature and may be symbolically introduced to denote vanity, playing off ironically with the ageing and roughened features of the piper. The print version introduces legends in Latin and Dutch into the lower margins. These suggest a contemporary disdain for country folk and describe the piper as a mildly stupid peasant preferring music to farming;

Naribus his fervens nunquam bene sudor olebit,                                                                                Dum juvat agricolas utriculare melos

(The stinging sweat will never smell good to this nose,

As long as playing melodies on the pipes delights the peasants).

The Dutch sentence reads in translations: “I care neither for the plough nor for the spade as long as I earn my pennies here”.


James Allan

(Illustration kindly provided by Anne Moore, Curator, Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum).

Modern scholarship has established that Abraham Bloemaert painted the “Bagpipe Player” about 1625, and if it was in subsequent years, not later than 1630. The print, made probably at the same time as the painting, reverses the image. At least three further versions of the print were established in the seventeenth century, which helps to explain the proliferation of the image and possibly also later oil paintings reproducing the “Bagpipe Player” image faithfully or with variations. A good example has been noted in a British collection which was probably painted in France. The bagpipe has features suggesting a French or Breton   binou and the immediate foreground has two lines of music in eight bars with melody within a restricted bagpipe chanter compass under the title “L’Opera de Village”. Many of these “Bagpipe Player” versions coincide in time with a new interest, especially in Western Europe, in an arcadian tradition of music, song and dance.

It can be seen that the Bloemaert image appears randomly and is used to infuse local portraiture with technical detail. It is not known whether there was ever a critical response to such portraits, A good example of local use of the stock image is in portraits of James Allan (1734 - 1810), a Northumbrian piper whose kenspeckle career inspired a biography which went through several editions. Portraits used to illustrate the editions appear to draw on sources other than likeness of the subject himself. It is almost exceptional, for example, that he is shown playing with a set of bellows under his right arm. Portraits show Allan playing a set of mouth-blown pipes. They all however show the piper wearing a badge fixed to his sleeve on the upper part of his arm, This was the heraldic badge or designation of the     Percys, representing the patronage of the Duchess of Northumberland which he earned   between about 1769 and 1777.

As has already been pointed out, only one of the Jamie Allan portraits might claim to       represent a likeness of the piper, that is the portrait attributed to Cruickshank in James Thompson’s “New, Improved and Authentic Life of James Allan” published in 1828. One or two of the other portraits, notably those in editions of his “Life” of 1817 and 1818 seem to derive at one or two removes from the Bloemaert piper.(5) The biographies of James Allan are usually classed as “chapbook literature”. The purpose of this was entertainment and   accuracy was not scrupulously observed. Portraits were produced by hack artists and       engravers for whom plagiarism was second nature,

Perhaps the most striking adaptation of the Bloemaert piper is in his translation to the Scottish setting, A version passed through the Edinburgh salerooms in recent years showing a figure in great-coat and Scotch bonnet, closely copied from the Bloemaert original but suggesting a piper in a Lowland context. Other versions represent kilted Highlanders and are shown as full-length figures, giving full value to inferred exotic qualities expected of the Highlands and Highlanders by a late eighteenth century audience and readership.

The earliest known occurrence of the Bloemaert piper in Scotland is its publication in the wake of the notorious Mutiny of the Black Watch Independent Companies in 1743. The Companies had been raised in the Highlands in the early eighteenth century, the intention being to police a politically disruptive Gaelic society with “... a body of disciplined Highlanders, wearing the dress and speaking the language of the country...” These were the wise words of the astute Lord President of the Court of Session, Duncan Forbes of Culloden, who foresaw the consequences of sending the Highland Independent Companies to stiffen the ranks of the British Army serving on the Continent in the war with Spain.

They were marched south to London, it was said, to be reviewed by a grateful

Hanoverian Monarch, George II, and were deceived over official intentions to send the   regiment to Flanders. They were reviewed on Finchley Common by General Wade, the lesser option, and then left their lines under cover of darkness to march back to Scotland. The deserters were surrounded, brought back under guard and tried, and three of the       presumed “ring leaders” executed by a firing squad in front of their former comrades-inarms. The shooting for Corporal Samuel MacPherson, Corporal Malcolm Macpherson and Private Farquhar Shaw bears all the marks of the brutality of a summary justice.

Portraits of the three and a piper were published in a set of four by John Bowles “at the Black Horse in Cornhill”, London, and presumably sold on the streets as a record of this sensational and revelational event. The portrait of the piper is subtitled “Macconnell/Piper to the highland regiment was tried in the Tower for desertion in June 1743 and sent to Georgia”. From the proceedings of the trial it is evident that this is Piper Donald           MacDonald of Capt. John Monro’s Company, the 42nd Highlanders, who, through an interpreter, answered the charges of mutiny and desertion. “He acknowledged to have been a soldier three years, but denies ever being listed, or taking the oath of fidelity, or having the


Engraved portrait of one of the Black Watch mutineers      Engraved portrait of a piper by by John Bowles of London 1743. The artist has drawn           George Bickham, drawing on the technical details from the Bloemaert painting. Bloemaert portrait.

Articles of War read to him”.(6) No doubt, as a Gaelic speaker, the drab details of the       Articles of War would have been totally unintelligible, whether read to the Piper or not. He was sentenced to death at his trial but owing to the effective intervention of his Company Commander, Captain Munro, the sentence was commuted and he was transferred to General Dalzell’s Regiment of Foot stationed in the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean.

The John Bowies version was probably published at the time of the Mutiny of 1743 when “portraits” of the accused perpetrators were required to illustrate biographical broadsheets produced in a hurry to satisfy the curiosity of a credulous public in London. Material details evident in the portraits suggest that the “artist” or engraver was relying on word-of-mouth information for the subject’s dress while the bagpipe compares closely to the Bloemaert   exemplar. A prominent difference is the banner with a St George’s Cross fixed on the larger drone which has been lengthened to accommodate it.

Another version of “Piper Donald MacDonald” entitled “ Highland Piper in his Regimentals” appeared almost contemporaneously as a frontispiece to A Short History of the Highland Regiment, the earliest Black Watch regimental record published in 1743. This portrait is ascribed to George Bickham who, it is claimed, drew it from life. A slightly later example appears as “Alexander Monro, Piper to the Prince”, a “Jacobite” version of Bickham’s “Piper in his Regimentals”, with the addition of a castle and landscape details though still with a Hanoverian cockade in his bonnet.

The market for print materia} must have been buoyant and one other well-known contemporary portrait was published as a Jacobite soldier, Farquhar Shaw of the Black Watch was “re-published” in 1745 from the John Bowles print, but this time as a Jacobite Highlander with a tartan jacket, a white cockade and “CPR” on his cartridge box. The buying public was certainly not discriminating enough to notice or worry about the “dubbing” of details.

The exotic quality of Highland dress was emphasised for an enthusiastic and credulous   audience, the belted plaid hanging in unregulated folds and revealing a less than likely     expanse of thigh. Apart from the drone arrangement of the bagpipe, which is unsubstantiated in material and documentary evidence, the disposition of the fingers on the chanter and the approximate placing of the left hand uppermost with the pipes on the right shoulder   relates this image closely to the Bloemaert exemplar. The same basic portraits re-appeared in slightly different guises throughout the eighteenth century, principally in Francis Grose’s Military Antiquities of 1786 when “A Piper of a Highland Regiment” is ascribed to an artist “N C Goodnight”, and a further version appeared about 1795 “A Scottish piper of the Highland Regiment”, published probably to reflect the contribution of Scottish soldiers to the French Revolutionary Wars which had broken out in 1793.(7)

These two examples, hurriedly issued to celebrate feats of arms and coinciding with         renewed international warfare, are copied from the 1743 portrait which is the local adaption of the Bloemaert original, There are minute and curious differences; for example, the     portrait in Grose’s Military Antiquities appears to have been re-drawn and the left hand   index finger on the chanter appears as the player’s thumb; the 1795 portrait has an unsightly style of chanter with a wider bore, and the banner on the drone, in tune with the patriotic jingoism of the war with France, is the Union Jack. The same portrait appears as late as 1863 in a plate in a History of the Scottish Regiments by Major A K Murray, where the     details of two of three prints of the 1740s are amalgamated.

A further “translation” of the Bloemaert image is noteworthy. Silks, spices and teas were among the expensive and popular commodities brought back by merchants and sea captains from the Far East in the early eighteenth century. As popular and yet more exclusive was Chinese porcelain which challenged silver, pewter and earthenware on the dining room tables of aspiring British households. There is very little documentary record of this trade which travelled into Europe usually as ballast or part of the “private cargo” of a ship’s   captain or of a presiding supercargo, Special orders were given for table services to be decorated with coats-of-arms, or pictorial subjects such as religious, pastoral or even erotic scenes. It is known that more than 3,000 services were made with British armorial bear- ings alone, not taking account of the demand from and supply to other parts of Europe.


Engraved portrait published in 1795, drawing on a similar portrait published in Grose’s  

Military Antiquities, drawing in turn on the Bickham and ultimately Bloemaert portraits.

The source of the highly regarded porcelain was south-east China, and especially Canton which was the first Chinese port opened to European trade.

Orders were sent out to China accompanied by the design which was to be enamelled onto the porcelain. It is known that the designs for coats of arms often went on paper book plates with which armigerous families adorned the front boards of the well-bound volumes in their extensive libraries. Other designs, especially figurative detail, travelled as print material.

Several Chinese export porcelain items are known which are painted with a design of kilted figures. It has been suggested that these were commissioned by families with Jacobite sympathies in the wake of the Jacobite war of 1745-46,(8). Examples such as punch bowls survive which show the figures combined with a medallion portrait of Prince Charles Edward Stewart. The figures, though caricatured and compressed, are clearly recognisable as the portraits in the prints by John Bowles and George Bickham of London. The portraits having been prepared as a set of four to commemorate the Black Watch “mutineers” of 1743, they are likely to have been taken to China in print form. Given the political attitudes and sympathies of the time, the prints served a symbolic or iconic need for Jacobite “martyr” portraits, although we have little or no evidence to indicate that the Black Watch desertion was in the Stewart cause or Jacobite inspired. The piper derived from the Bloemaert original is the   figure who appears most frequently as a “martyr” portrait, the preference for him possibly   intensified by the concurrent tradition that this was a portrait of Prince Charlie’s piper, a   tradition seemingly with no foundation in fact.(9)

To conclude, mere work requires to be done on the technical aspects of Abraham

Bloemaert’s “Bagpipe Player” to decide whether there are authentic and valid musicological inferences to be drawn from it. The British (and other) examples of the Bloemaert image are undoubtedly important from an aesthetic and art-history point of view but of little significance from the ethno-musicological angle. Because we have so little in the way of early graphic evidence for pipers, their reproduction as illustrating the British or Scottish tradition of piping has to be strictly qualified because as portraiture the images are essentially       bogus.(10)

Notes and References

1. See, for example, W Waetzoldt, Durer and his Times London 1950

2. Hugh Cheape, “Portraiture in Piping (part 1)”, on The Scottish Pipe Band Monthly No. 6 (January 1988), 20-24
3. Hugh Cheape, “The Piper to the Laird of Grant”, in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (forthcoming)
4. Marcel Roethlisberger, Abraham Bloemaert and his sons. Paintings and Prints Davaco 1993
5. Gilbert Askew, “The Portraits of James Allan, the Northumbrian Piper”, in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle-upon-Tyne Vol. 5 4th series (1931), 105-9. I am indebted to John and Julian Goodacre for the reference to this article.
6. H D MacWilliam, The Official Records of the Mutiny of the Black Watch London 1910, 193
7. Francis Grose, Military Antiquities respecting a History of the English Army Vol 1 London 1786
8. David Sanctuary Howard, “Chinese Porcelain of the Jacobites”, in Country Life 25 January 1973, 243-4
9. Five or more punch bowls are known to survive and a fine example of 28.5cm diameter was sold by Christies at the sale of Fingask Castle, Perthshire, on 26-28 April 1993 (Lot 1276). The estimate of 5,000 - 8,000 was far exceeded by a hammer-price of £25,000.
10. I am most grateful to my colleagues Edith Philips and Allan Carswell in the
Department of Armed Forces History, Scottish United Services Museum, for help in the preparation of this articlI am most grateful to my colleagues Edith Philips and Allan Carswell in the Department of Armed Forces History, Scottish United Services Museum, for help in the preparation of this article,