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The Art of Monarchy

A collaboration with BBC Radio 4 to mark Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

Philippe Mercier (1689-1760)

'The Music Party': Frederick, Prince of Wales with his Three Eldest Sisters 1733

RCIN 402414

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Frederick, Prince of Wales (1707-51) was the eldest son of George II and would have become king had he not died prematurely. In this painting he is shown playing the cello, accompanied by his sister Princess Anne (1709-59) at the harpsichord; Princess Caroline (1713-57) plays the mandora (a type of lute) and Amelia (1711-86) reads a volume of Milton’s poems. The setting seems to be specific - the red-brick back of a building in the background is certainly not an artist’s impression of an ideal palace — but it is impossible to identify with certainty. The sconce to the right (one of a group supplied in 1733 by Benjamin Goodison, c.1700-67) and the painting of the sleeping Endymion on the wall (by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini) are both accurately recorded and still in the Royal Collection.

The Princesses are rather soberly dressed with ‘closed gowns’ fastened across the bodice, covering a white linen kerchief round the neck and wearing plain caps with lappets, one pinned up, one hanging down and the last fastened under the chin. The more formally dressed Frederick is given centre stage, and yet the effect of the scene is one of informality, ensemble music-making and sibling harmony (something which in reality was starting to evaporate at this time).