Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of King James II 1688

Benedetto Gennari 

Portrait of King James II, Benedetto Gennari
Oil on canvas
17th Century
29 x 24 inches 76.2 x 63.5 cm oval
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Gennari wrote of his full length of James II that it was done there [England] when James II was proclaimed King, in order to keep in my house in memory of the honour I received in being confirmed in the post of first painter to his majesty.

Gennari, a native of Bologna, was the nephew and pupil of Guercino. In 1672 he travelled to the French Court in Paris where he stayed for 16 months painting portraits and religious and mythological subjects. From Paris he moved onto London and the court of Charles II where he was warmly welcomed, moving into the gap left by Sir Peter Lely's advancing years, and not yet filled by Sir Godfrey Kneller.

Gennari stayed on in England through the reign of Charles II and his brother James II, going into exile with them in 1688. His favour was partly due to his Roman Catholic background and talent for religious images, which greatly pleased the piety of the King.

Portraiture was the most significant body of Gennari's work at the Stuart Court. He painted the King's first wife, Anne Hyde, and her two daughters and James's second wife, Mary of Modena and the Prince of Wales. But the portrait of which Gennari was most proud, however, was his image of James II. He produced a celebrated full length which in 1702 was bought in the name of the King's widow, Mary of Modena, and ended up in the collection of Pope Clement XI. This bust portrait relates to that sitting.

One is used to perceiving the face of James II through the eyes of Lely and Kneller, but this distinguished work represents a refreshing and incisive alternative to the commonly encountered iconography.
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