Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Prince James Francis Edward Stuart, the 'Old Pretender' (1688-1766), c.1712 

Studio of Alexis Simon Belle (1674-1734)

Portrait of Prince James Francis Edward Stuart, the 'Old Pretender' (1688-1766), c.1712, Studio of Alexis Simon Belle
Oil on canvas
18th Century
29 x 23.5 in (73.5cm x 60 cm)
Private collection, UK.
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James Francis Edward Stuart, otherwise known as the ‘Old Pretender’, is one of the most emotive characters in British history and this portrait, painted in c.1712 when the health of Queen Anne was left in the balance, shows James confident and poised with the hope of claiming back the British throne.

Prince James Edward Stuart was the only son of James II and his second wife Mary of Modena. Following his father’s loss of the throne and flight from England in 1688, Prince James Edward Stuart was raised in France under the patronage of Louis XIV. He mounted several campaigns to reclaim the English throne as James III in 1706, 1708 and finally in 1715 when he landed at Peterhead in Scotland, but all of these were unsuccessful. He married the Polish Princess Maria Clementina Sobieska in 1719 and spent much of the remainder of his life in exile in Rome. His eldest son, Prince Charles Edward Stuart or ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’, similarly sought to regain the English throne resulting in defeat in 1745. Supporters of their cause – numerous amongst the French, the Scots and English Catholics – were known as Jacobites.

Alexis Simon Belle was born in Paris in 1674 and was the son of painter Jean-Baptiste Belle. Belle initially trained under his father’s watchful eye before, in c.1698, joining the studio of painter François de Troy, who by that point was heavily patronised by the exiled court of James II at Saint-Germaine-en-Laye. Demand in England for Jacobite portraiture was strong during this period, as the baton was soon to be passed over from the increasingly frail James II to his younger son. By 1701 Belle was describing himself as ‘Painter in Ordinary to the King of England’, and has thus taken over the reigns as principal painter at James’ court. Belle painted a number of portrait-types of James, both as ‘Prince of Wales’ and later as ‘King’, and the present work relates to the original three-quarter length portrait of 1712 which is in the UK Government Art Collection and currently hangs at 10 Downing Street. It would have been the declining health of Queen Anne in England that encouraged James to sit to Belle once again, for it was portraiture that helped maintain and encourage Jacobite support in England.

There are however a number of distinct idiosyncrasies in this work when compared with the prime version; in this portrait for example, James is shown wearing full armour, whereas in the original portrait he wears just a breastplate. The background too has been subdued, presumably to reinforce the intimacy of a smaller scale work, and James’ left arm, which in the original portrait is almost resting at his side, is more cocked in this portrait, much as it is shown in Belle’s earlier likenesses of 1701-5.
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