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Sir James Thornhill (1675-1734)

Panel for a Royal State Coach: Britannia Receiving Homage from the Continents. c. 1718

Oil on panel | 58.1 x 60.5 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 407518

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  • This panel for George I’s State Coach probably dates from 1718, the year in which Thornhill was appointed History Painter to George I. It is one of many of similar format and dimensions which survive. There are two in the Victoria and Albert Museum, two in the Dorset County Museum, Dorchester, and two in the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven. George III’s State Coach of 1762 (RCIN 5000048) gives some idea of how these painted panels might have fitted into the design of the vehicle as a whole, though until we are certain of how many panels there originally were we can only guess at the arrangement. This panel is a conventional allegorical celebration of virtuous power, stamped with the royal coat of arms. Britannia, surrounded by allegories of Victory, Fame, Peace, Commerce and Providence (with the sceptre and divine eye), receives the homage of the Four Continents – Europe, America, Africa and Asia (with a spicy incense burner) – while Hercules fights off their opponents. Europe’s traditional attribute of the horse here refers also to the heraldic emblem of Hanover.

    Thornhill’s work is brilliant and efficient. It is freely painted and resembles an oil sketch, since that is all the image-resolution a moving coach requires. The gold-leaf background provides the light of a sunrise while integrating with the gold of the surrounding panel. This transition is also cleverly achieved by the relationship between painted and carved decoration, with the royal coat-of-arms at the intersection. In view of its quality it is surprising how little English art of this type exists and how soon imported artists reclaimed this area of the market. George III’s State Coach had its similar decorative allegorical panels painted by Giovanni Battista Cipriani (1727–85), a Florentine who worked in London from 1755 until his death and was a founder member of the Royal Academy.

    Text adapted from The First Georgians: Art and Monarchy, 1714-1760, London 2014

    Provenance

    Probably painted for the state coach of George I

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on panel

    Measurements

    58.1 x 60.5 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external)

    79.0 x 83.0 x 6.0 cm (frame, external)

    56.5 x 59.8 cm (sight)

  • Other number(s)