Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of James Edward Stuart, The Old Pretender (1688-1766), c.1720 

Follower of Alexis Simone Belle (16741734)

Portrait of James Edward Stuart, The Old Pretender (1688-1766), c.1720, Follower of Alexis Simone Belle
Oil on copper
18th Century
6 x 4 inches 15.2 x 10.2 cm
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This small oval portrait of Prince James Edward Stuart, titular King James III, relates to portraits of the prince by Alexis Simeon Belle. This shows James Stuart in martial guise with steel cuirass and riband of the Order of the Garter, the consistent wearing of which by the exiled Stuarts, and their award of the Order to their supporters, was an assertion of their legitimacy. The prime example of the Belle type is a three-quarter length portrait in the collection of Comte Arnaud de Montesquiou Fezensac, painted 1712 - 1714, when hopes were at their highest for a Stuart succession to the ailing and childless Queen Anne.

This was the source for the great majority of portraits of the Pretender, certainly the source for the majority of the clandestine and private images, such as this small copper, that were commissioned by his supporters in England and displayed as tokens to sympathisers. Belle was a popular court painter among the exiles at St Germaine-en-Laye. He painted portraits of Louis XIV and Louis XV among many members of the French royal family, but he is best known to British iconography for his portraits of James Edward Stuart and of his ministers such as Henry Lord Bolingbroke (National Portrait Gallery, London).
The present image departs from other types in the distinctive low-crowned campaign wig that the prince is wearing. The style, as its name suggests, had specifically martial origins, as the trailing ends are caught up and tied to keep them from being an impediment in combat.

A mezzotint in the Scottish National Portrait gallery attributed to the English engraver John Simon would appear to derive at a further remove from the same source, and it shares the distinctive features of the present portrait, namely the campaign wig, and the characterisation in which the Prince''s features are made bolder and blunter, and the face overall slightly less elongated.

The engraving is printed without an identifying inscription, which marks it a print made in England, where the dissemination of such images was necessarily considered treason. Printmakers producing Jacobite icons within Britain itself were understandably careful that their images be first unsigned and, second, identifiable only to the initiates. For this reason not only were likenesses of James Stuart left without caption, but sometimes they were wrongly captioned, identified by inscription perhaps as one of his Hanoverian cousins, or, in the case of an engraving after Belle, as the Comte de Toulouse. The related engraving to the present portrait might at first glance be read as that of a less controversial military garter knight, as was the engraver''s intention. This small painting on copper is, like a miniature, intended to be a more private object, and an explicit reference can be made to the subject''s status in the swirl of ermine drapery.

Like the other variants on Belle's portrait, this example was most probably produced r.1708 - 1720. This is the time when British Jacobitism, under such leaders as the Duke of Ormond, was at its most respectable and most politically plausible. The adherents of Prince James included such men as Henry St Lord Bolingbroke who had held high office under Queen Anne, and whose lead many in England would have followed had their cause been more initially successful.

The prince's birth on June 10th 1688 came at a controversial moment. Five years had passed since Queen Mary of Modena had given birth, and none of her previous children had survived infancy. The protestant party were alarmed by the possibility that the Counter Reformation initiated by James might not, after all, expire with him, but be perpetuated by an heir. Their anxiety manifested itself in frenzied attempts to brand the child as spurious -the ''warming-pan baby1- and in the growing movement -led by peers, including Lord Wharton and the (then) Earl of Devonshire- to expel James in favour of his protestant daughter Mary.
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