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Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Massacre of the Innocents, c.1565-7

Close examination of objects in the Royal Collection reveals unexpected details

Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702-89)

Edward Augustus, Duke of York (1739-1767) 1754

RCIN 400901

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Chalk drawing on the reverse of a portrait of Prince Edward

Chalk drawing on the reverse of a portrait of Prince Edward ©

This portrait of Prince Edward forms part of a series of pastels commissioned by his mother, Augusta, Princess of Wales, to represent her family. When conservators were reframing the portrait they discovered a child’s chalk drawing on a piece of vellum tacked onto the reverse of the stretcher. The doodles depict a bearded man, which match with how the artist, Jean-Étienne Liotard, painted himself at this date in a number of self-portraits, including a miniature in the Royal Collection. It would seem that as Liotard was drawing the royal children, he invited them to draw him, turning a portrait sitting from a chore into a game. We do not know which of the young princes or princesses produced this drawing, but it was clearly considered important enough to be carefully preserved alongside Liotard’s own pastel.