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George Jamesone

1589 / 1590 - 1644. Portrait painter (Self-portrait - or simply advertisements)

The father of Jamesone was Andrew Jamesone, Burgess of Guild of  Aberdeen, and his mother was Marjory Anderson, daughter of David Anderson, one of the magistrates of that city. What should have prompted the parents of the young painter to adopt the very unusual measure of sending their son from a quiet fireside in Aberdeen, to study under Peter Paul Rubens in Antwerp, must remain a mystery. The father is said to have been an architect, and it is probably that he had knowledge enough of art to remark the rising genius of his child, and was liberal enough to perceive the height to which the best foreign education might rise the possessor of that genius.

If a certain Flemish building projecting into one of the narrow streets of Aberdeen, and known by the name of "Jamesone’s House," be the production of the architectural talents of the elder A Jamesone, as the period of the style may render not unlikely, he must have been a man of taste and judgment.  Under Rubens, Jamesone had for his fellow scholar Sir Anthony Vandyke, and the early intercourse of these two artists had the effect of making the portraits of each be mistaken for those of the other. In 1620, Jamesone returned to Aberdeen, and established himself as a portrait-painter. He there, on the 12th of November, 1624, married Miss Isobel Tosh, 'a lady with whom he seems to have enjoyed much matrimonial felicity, and who, if we may judge by her husband’s representation of her in one of his best pictures,' must have been a person of very considerable attractions; he had by her several children, of whom the sons seem to have all met early deaths, a daughter being the only child he left behind him.

Jamesone appears to have been in Edinburgh during the visit of King Charles I in the year 1633. To gratify the taste of that Prince he was employed by the magistrates to paint portraits, as nearly resembling probable likenesses as he could devise, of some of the real or supposed early Kings of Scotland. These productions had the good fortune to give satisfaction, and the unhappy King, who had soon far different matters to occupy his attention, sat for his portrait, and rewarded the artist with a diamond ring from his own finger. It is alleged that the painter was on this occasion indulged with a permission to remain covered in the presence of majesty, a circumstance which is made to account for his having always represented himself (and he was not sparing in portraits of himself,) with his hat on: neither is the permission characteristic of the Monarch, nor its adoption by the artist; and the peculiarity may be better attributed to a slavish imitation of his master Rubens, in a practice which had been sanctioned by the choice of Carracci and Guido.  Portrait prices of £100 Scots was about £8 7s 6d English in his day.

After a life which must have been spent in great industry, and enjoying independence, and even wealth, Jamesone died at Edinburgh in 1644, and was buried without a monument in the Grey Friars’ Church there.

File:GeorgeJamesone.jpgIt is indeed not without reason, that the portraits of Jamesone have frequently been mistaken for those of Vandyke. Both excelled in painting the human countenance,—in making the flesh and blood project from the surface of the canvas, and animating it with a soul within. That the Scottish artist may have derived advantage from his association with the more eminent foreigner it were absurd to deny; but as they were fellow students, candour will admit, that the advantage may have been at least partly repaid, and that the noble style in which both excelled, may have been formed by the common labour of both. Jamesone has been termed the "Vandyke of Scotland," but he may with equal right claim the title of the Vandyke of Britain. Towards the latter end of Elizabeth’s reign, Hilliard and Oliver had become somewhat distinguished as painters in miniature, and they commanded some respect, more from the inferiority of others, than from their own excellence; but the first inhabitant of Great Britain, the works of whose brush could stand comparison with foreign painters, was Jamesone.. After his death, the art he had done so much to support, languished in Scotland. His daughter, who may have inherited some portion of parental genius, has left behind fruits of her industry in a huge mass of tapestry, which still dangles from the gallery of the church of St Nicholas in Aberdeen. This lady’s second husband was Gregory, the mathematician.

With further reference to this place of pleasure ground, we give the following entry, regarding a petition of date the 15th of January, 1645, given in to the town council of Aberdeen by "Mr John Alexander, advocate of Edinburgh,
''- makand mention that where that piece of ground callit the play-field besyd Wolman-hill (quhilk was set to umquihill George Jamesone, painter, burges of Edinburgh in life-rent, and buildit be him in a garden) is now unprofitable, and that the said John Alexander, sone in law to the said umquhill George Jamesone, is desirous to have the same piece of ground set to him in few heritabile to be houlden of the provost, balizies, and of the burghs of Aberdeen, for payment of a reasonable few dutie yeirlie their-for;" praying the magistrates to set to him in feu tack the foresaid piece of ground: the request is granted by the magistrates, and further official mention is made of the transaction of date the 10thNovember, 1646, where the "marches" of the garden are set forth in full."

This place of ground was the ancient "Play-field" of the Burgh, which remained disused, after the Reformation had terminated the mysteries and pageants there performed.

Persons connected with Aberdeen will know the spot when they are informed, that it is the piece of flat ground extending from The Well of Spa to Jack’s brae, bounded on the east by the Woolman Hill, and the burn running at its foot; on the south by the Denburn, and the ridge of ground on which Skene street now stands; on the west by Jack’s brae, and on the north by the declivity occupied by the Gilcomston Brewery. The appropriation of the spot in the garden of the painter is still noted by the name of a fountain, called "The Garden Neuk Well." 

The Four Neukit Garden, which four hundred years ago was the favourite suburban retreat of Jamiesone where he drank the well water. Jamesone went to Antwerp to study under Rubens, and there he had seen gardens with summer houses, and on his return to Scotland he had reproduced what he had seen abroad.

The Garden Neuk has its entrance from Upper Denburn. Formerly there was another from Spa Street opposite the Well, and James Gordon says : — "Hard by [the well] there is a four squair feild, which of old served for a theater, since made a gardyne for pleasur by the Industrie and expense of George Jamesone, ane ingenious paynter quho did sett up therein ane timber hous paynted all over with his own hand." The Spa Street entrance was in the line of the south front of the Infirmary.


Would that this house still survived as a monument to the Aberdonian Artist at 22 School Hill.  It was built by Andrew Jamesone a Master Mason and inherited by his son George Jamiesone Portrait Painter. A young loon looks over wall of the graveyard of St Nicholas at the photographer (circa 1898) who seems to be recording the already crumbling and condemned 300 year old but magnificent building.  This appears to be a centre of attraction for pedestrians perhaps posing and anxious to get their 'photie took' for posterity to ponder over.  It is at least fitting that the Gray's School of Art and Art Gallery lies at the top of School Hill.

The Woolman Hill, which all the rest outvies
In pleasantness, this city beautifies;
There is the well of Spa, that healthful font,
Whose yrne-hewed water coloureth the mount;
Not far from thence a garden’s to be seen
Which unto Jamesone did appertain:
Wherein a little pleasant house doth stand,
Painted as I guess with its master’s hand."


Andrew Jamesone

Master mason and architect. The son of Deacon William Jamesone. In 1576, Within five months of the death of his father the young Andrew is recorded as having been apprenticed to Andrew Bethleam in Aberdeen for a period of seven years. A noted mason, he rose to become a Burgess of Guild in the city and his work includes Provost Ross' House.

Knocket doon - its a' awa!


The Well of Spa when first we hear of it was on the west side of Spa Street, about 50 to 100 yards up from Upper Denburn. The ground on the east side of Spa Street was higher than the west and the water issued from the bank on the east, coming from the brae on which the Infirmary is built. Dr Barclay's tract had been the means of drawing attention to the Well, and it had been furnished with a long broad stone spout projecting from the bank, which had been faced with stones. It is representative of the twelve Apostles sent out by Christ to heal the sick, carved in stone, six on either side, were placed in the wall beside the spout.

Among several who had benefited by drinking of the well was George Jamesone, the painter, who had suffered from a stone in the bladder.   The mason work of the well had become old and worn out, and he renewed it and built over it a pediment with a projecting roof.

Located in a municipal garden on the corner of Skene Street and Spa Street, behind Aberdeen Central Library, the Well of Spa represents a disused well-head which once stood over one of the oldest and best known of Aberdeen's mineral wells. It was gifted to the citizens of Aberdeen in 1635 by locally-born portrait painter George Jameson (1586 - 1644), who is said to have drunk the waters daily. The spa erupted from under Woolman Hill and its beneficial properties had been recognised from Mediaeval times, with its powers described in a book dating from 1580. Cups were attached by chains and it provided the principal supply of drinking water for the local people until they were connected to the public water supply.  The Spa was vulnerable to the flooding Den Burn, and was badly damaged in 1650. Rebuilt in 1670, it was lost in 1751 to be renovated 100 years later by Dr. James Gordon of Pitlurg. The gable wall of the vault which once contained the well is all that remains and this was restored by Moray Stone Cutters of Birnie in 1977.

One of an original set of twelve Sibyls, arguably by George Jamesone, which was presented to King's College in 1640 by Principal William Guild. Sibyls, in their role of foretellers of the Christian Revelation, formed part of a decorative tradition in seventeenth-century Scotland.  Cosmo Alexander, a Jacobite who fled to Rome for some years after the Battle of Culloden in 1746, undertook the restoration of the series. Sibyl Europæa holds a sceptre, which may be seen to align her with the figure of Europa, one of the symbolic female personifications of the Four Parts of the World, used in art to promote the authority of the Catholic Church.

Mary Jamesone

Few Aberdonians are aware of the wondrous embroidered panels which have hung in the Kirk of St Nicholas for over 300 years. Known as Mary Jamesone’s Tapestries, they are not woven as you might expect, but embroidered, being sewn on finely-wrought linen, completely covered in stitches to give a woven effect. Far from being dainty drawing-room pieces, these tapestries depicting scenes from Bible stories are huge; the largest, of Jephthah and his Daughter, is 12 feet x 5 feet 10inches. Mary Jamesone, to whom they are credited, was the daughter of George Jamesone, the 17th century portrait painter, who studied under Rubens in Antwerp.  Jameson painted the likenesses of the cream of Scottish society. Though no written evidence remains, it is highly probable that the scenes attributed to Mary were designed by her father; but as she was only seven at the time of his death, we can surmise that the work for intended for someone else – perhaps several others given the size of the task, and the fact that there were other needlewomen in the family. 

Mary married James Gregory a Mathematician and their son James was Professor of Physic at King's College Aberdeen. In addition to his mathematical work Gregory's interests in astronomy led him to do some valuable practical work in optics. He described his reflecting telescope which has come to be known by his name, the Gregorian telescope.  He had anticipated Newton by recommending a reflecting telescope in his Optica promota  1663; The Advance of Optics). He realized that refracting telescopes would always be limited by aberrations of various kinds. His solution was to use a concave mirror that reflected (rather than a lens that refracted to minimize these effects. He solved the problem of the observer by having a hole in the primary mirror through which the light could pass to the observer. However, he was unable to find anyone skilled enough actually to construct the telescope.  James Gregory suffered a stroke while viewing the moons of Jupiter with his students. He died a few days later at the age of 37.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013