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Alexis-Simon Belle (1674-1734)

Prince James Francis Edward Stuart with his sister, Princess Louisa Maria Theresa Signed and dated 1699

Oil on canvas | 188.1 x 131.5 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 401175

Historic Stair, Palace of Holyroodhouse

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  • Prince James Francis Edward Stuart appears here in costume as an angel, leading his sister Princess Louise-Marie. The composition is probably an allusion to the apocryphal Biblical story of Tobias and the Angel, which tells how the angel Raphael - in disguise - accompanies the young Tobias on a journey. Guided by Raphael, Tobias catches a fish that cures his father Tobit's blindness. The subject was popular in Italian art of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, but is unusual in portraiture.

    This painting, by Alexis-Simon Belle (1674-1734), was commissioned when the sitters and their father, the Catholic James II, were in exile at the Château Saint-Germain-en-Laye, outside Paris. Portraits of the exiled Stuarts were produced throughout this period for distribution to their supporters and Belle was a favourite portraitist to the Stuart court. The story of Tobias may have been chosen for its resonances with the theme of the exiled king-in-waiting. Like the angel Raphael, Belle suggests, Prince James is a leader, and though he is temporarily unrecognised, those who follow him will be able to see his rightful claim. The Prince's royal lineage is further emphasised by the inclusion of the blue riband of the Order of the Garter over his chest – a longstanding symbol of English royal power. Meanwhile, in character as Tobias and following her brother trustingly, Princess Louise-Marie models the desired response of the onlooker.

    Though the portrait emphasises the Stuart claim to the throne, the Prince's bare chest, absence of royal regalia, and 'angelic' demeanour – together with the inclusion of his young sister – are clearly intended to highlight his peaceful intentions. Though the English Act of Succession of 1701 excluded the male line of Stuarts from the throne in favour of the Protestant Electress Sophia of Hanover, the Catholic Stuarts still maintained their commitment to a peaceful restoration on the death of James II's second daughter, Queen Anne (r.1702-1714) the last of the Protestant Stuarts. However, despite the clear propaganda function of this portrait, it is thought to have been commissioned by the children's mother, Mary of Modena, to send to her family in Italy. It hung in the Grand Ducal Gallery, Modena until around 1902, and was presented as a gift to Queen Mary in 1930.

    Prince James Francis Edward Stuart (1688-1766) and his sister Louise-Marie (1692-1712) were the children of the Catholic King James II of England. In 1688, the Protestant-led 'Glorious Revolution' dethroned James II and replaced him with his Protestant sister, Mary (1662-1694), and her husband William of Orange (1650-1702). James, his wife and their son went into exile in France, under the protection of Louis XIV; the French king's namesake, Princess Louise-Marie, was born in 1692, but died in 1712 after a smallpox epidemic. Later known as the 'Old Pretender', James Stuart participated in several unsuccessful plots to reclaim the English throne. In 1712 he left France for Rome, where he married Maria Clementina Sobieska (1702-1735). He had two sons Charles (1720-1788) and Henry (1725-1807), but was never to see a Stuart restoration; the male line died with Henry Stuart in 1807.

    Provenance

    Presented as a gift to Queen Mary and accepted into the collection 30 May 1930.

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on canvas

    Measurements

    188.1 x 131.5 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external)

    221.0 x 163.8 x 9.5 cm (frame, external)

  • Category
    Object type(s)
    Subject(s)
  • Alternative title(s)

    Prince James Francis Edward Stuart (1688-1766) with his sister, Princess Louisa Maria Theresa (1692-1712)

    Prince James Francis Edward Stuart (1688-1766), the old Pretender, with his sister, Princess Louisa Maria Theresa (1692-1712), as Tobias and the Angel