Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Queen Mary of Modena with Prince James Stuart 1690c.

Benedetto Gennari 

Portrait of Queen Mary of Modena with Prince James Stuart, Benedetto Gennari
Oil on canvas
17th Century
35 x 45 inches 89.5 x 114/3 cm
probably The artist''s collection, Bologna until 1715.
probably Nota autografa di Benedetto Gennari dei quadri eseguiti a St Germain-en-Laye dal 1689 al 1692. no.11 cited in Prisco Bagni Benedetto Gennari e La Bottega del Guercino Bologna 1990
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This portrait of Mary of Modena and her son Prince James Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender, is in some ways a doubly intimate work. The original commission was from the Queen herself, and unlike a state portrait for public display or presentation, the prime full-length was intended as a present for her husband King James II. This present version is a copy in medessima grandezza that the artist painted for his own pleasure and took with him to his house in Bologna. It is, therefore, against the majority of Royal images, let alone those of the late seventeenth century, a remarkably private object, and a record of the artist's devotion to the exiled Stuarts.

Unlike other artists who had enjoyed King James II's patronage up to the Revolution of 1688, Benedetto Gennari did not accommodate himself to the new protestant regime. Kneller became principal painter to William and Mary, and Verrio continued to enjoy Royal favour, after a diplomatic absence in the provinces. Gennari, however, chose to flee England with that loyal remainder of the Court and follow the King into exile at St Germain-en-Laye.

It was there in France that he produced some of his most impressive works, such as the full-length Portrait of King James II in Garter Robes (ex New York Private Collection; Christie's London 12 November 1999 lot 4), Elizabeth Panton Lady Arundel as Cleopatra (Tate Gallery, London) and the three portraits of the Queen with the young heir.

The prime version in this sequence is the full-length portrait, described by Gennari in his Nota autografa no. 8, which he executed for the Queen in 1690, to be sent as a present to King James who was then campaigning in Ireland in an unsuccessful attempt to regain his throne. Since the King returned to France before the portrait could be sent to him this example was instead presented to the Duke of Modena, the Queen''s brother1. It is now in the collection of the Museo Civico in Modena. A second version of this composition is mentioned as no. 10 in Gennari's catalogue, specifically described as being of the same dimensions as the prime portrait2. This is held to be the portrait sold at Sotheby's 9th April 1997 lot 22.

There is good reason to believe that this present half-length portrait of the Queen and Prince is the third of the versions produced by Gennari at St Germain-en-Laye, mentioned in his list at no.11. The description of this painting is worth quoting in full:

Another portrait of the Queen copied from the first and of half size and I later carried it with me to Italy and it is in my house with that of King James3

Stylistically this portrait is unquestionably a example of Gennari's manner, where the dominant influence, despite his decade in England, remains the court painting of France and Northern Italy. His meticulous treatment of lacework is distinctive, as are his bold, metallic draperies. Passages that unquestionably indicate the master, however, are those such as the beautifully observed chubby hands of the infant James. These are unsurprising perhaps, from the hand of one who produced a great many infant Christs in the manner of his master Guercino.

Further to this there is the evidence of Gennari's Nota autografa. Gennari executed no works after 1675 without noting them in the catalogue that he kept so meticulously during his work in Paris, London, St Germain and, ultimately, Bologna. The particular care with which he notes the sizes of the three Mary of Modena portraits strongly suggests that this present example is no.11 of his list. The prime version is described as assai grande ''fairly big'' and displays the Queen figura intiera. This is the only version whose provenance is complete, and we know that it is the large canvas in the Museo Civico, Modena. The second portrait, no.10 is stated to be of the stessa grandezza, the same size as the previous entry.

The third example, however, is described as being copied from the first but of half size. This accords, of course, exactly with the appearance of the present painting, just as its scale suggests an grand portrait reproduced for a more domestic context. In addition, the size of this particular canvas is one that Gennari seems to have favoured. It is only slightly smaller (which may represent a loss through restretching) than another intimate work, no.3 in Gennari''s list, a portrait of his friend Francesco Riva with his wife and children which measures 37 x 49 inches.

1. no.8 Un quadro assai grande ritratto della Regina d''Inghilterra figura intiera che vicina ad un tavolino sta sedendo in atto voler prendere in braccio il Principe di Galles suo figlio d''eta di due anni in circa che stando in piedi sopra detto tavolino se li aprossima per acarezzarla. Questo quadro mi fu ordinato da Sua Maesta per mandarlo a presentare al Re in Irlanda dove a quel temposi ritrovava, ma poi risolse in tenerlo stante che il Re giunse d''Irlanda a San Germano, ma poi la Maesta della Regina risolse mandarlo a presentare al Sig. Duca di Modena suo Fratello
2. no.10 Copia del ritratto sudetto della Regina della stessa grandezza e questo resto in mano del Sig. Riva a San Germano.
3. no.11 Un altro ritratto della Regina copiato dal primo e della medessima grandezza e lo portai poi con me in Italia e sta in casa nostra con quello di Re Giacomo.
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