Prince James Edward Stuart, The Old Pretender (1688 - 1766)

Antonio David
1698 – 1750

Prince James Edward Stuart, The Old Pretender (1688 - 1766)

Painted circa 1718

Oil on canvas: 31 1/4 x 25 inches, 80 x 63.5 cm



  • With The Weiss Gallery 2014, sold to
  • Private Collection


  • W.G. Blaickie Murdoch, ‘Antonio David: A contribution to Stuart Iconography’, The Burlington Magazine, vol.56, no.325, April 1930,pp.203- 205.J. Kerslake, National Portrait Galery: Early Georgian Portraits, London, 1977, vol.I, pp.158 & 349, as ‘closer to [Antonio] David’.E. Corp, The Jacobites at Urbino: An exiled court in transition, New York, 2009, illustrated on the cover.


  • Southampton, Southampton Art Gallery and Winchester, Winchester College, Pictures from Hampshire Houses, 2 July – 17 August 1955, no.59, as ‘Rigaud’.

As an icon of the Jacobite cause, James Francis Edward Stuart was the subject of numerous works of art during his lifetime. Few, however, stand as singularly vibrant as his portrayal by Antonio David. Painted at the inauguration of the artist’s long association with the Pretender, around 1720, at his exiled Jacobite court in Rome, he is shown in a fashionably voluminous wig, donning a lacy cravat above a highly sheened ceremonial breast-plate, a purposeful nod to his military intentions. His regal appearance is increased by the velvet and fur cloak he wears and his distinctions of the blue ribbon of the Garter and the green and gold of the Thistle. With David’s emphasis on texture, opulence and colour, he epitomises a kingly magnificence to rival the portraiture of James’s French contemporary, Louis XV. Yet more significantly, it would have successfully eclipsed the comparatively lack-lustre likenesses of Queen Anne and George I across the channel.The incorporation of James’s Orders in this portrait suggests a dating for the picture to after 1717. Having returned from his unsuccessful campaign in Scotland in 1716, and wishing to recognise the efforts of his Jacobite supporters, he chose for the first time to display the Order of the Thistle as well as the Order ofthe Garter on his chest. Our portrait may well be the same painting that was sent to John Erskine, 22nd Earl of Mar in early 1718, as described in a letter written by David to the Earl dated 9th February, in which David stated that notwithstanding a recent illness he had painted it entirely with his ‘own brush’, and that he hoped it would be ‘cordially received’.The importance of David’s commission is further confirmed by the existence of a ricordo for the work, with the Weiss Gallery in 2011/2012, that was also painted for one of the Old Pretender’s close supporters, James Ogilvy, 4th Earl of Findlater and 1st Earl of Seafield (1663 – 1730), possibly as one of several small-scale reductions by the artist dispersed among his Jacobite supporters.

David was the son of the artist Lodovico Antonio David (1648 –c.1730), and like his father was based mainly in Rome. He earned repute there as a portraitist while he was still only in his early twenties, and went on to form a close acquaintance with the Stuarts, becoming an official portrait painter of the exiled Jacobite court in 1718, the likely year of this portrait, and in the words of the Old Pretender himself, ‘our Reigne the 17th year’. A letter from James Edward Stuart to David, now in the archives at Windsor, regally stated ‘We being well satisfied with your zeal for Us and of your Capacity and Qualifications in the Art of Painting And being willing to confer and bestow on you a Mark of Our Royal Favour Do hereby Name and Appoint you dureing our will and pleasur only To be One of Our Painters and to take on you the name of Such’. The artist went on to work almost exclusively for the House of Stuart for nearly twenty years, also painting the Old Pretender’s two children Prince Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender (1720 – 1788) and Prince Henry Benedict, Cardinal York (1725 – 1807), both painted circa 1732 (SNPG, Edinburgh).

James Edward was the only son of the younger brother of Charles II, the briefly reigning James II (1633 – 1701), who was removed from the throne in the revolution of 1688 after only three years as King, due to his Catholic aspirations for the country. James II fled to France in December 1688, following his wife Mary of Modena and the young James Edward, but he died soon after, truly embittered, in 1701. James Edward was declared King by Stuart supporters but remained in France, spending his earliest years under the protection of King Louis XIV. He later attempted to officially claim his title by landing in Scotland in 1715. Failing, he was offered refuge in Rome by Pope Clement XI, and given the Palazzo Muti as his residence. Continuing the Stuart legacy of artistic patronage, his court in Rome was an epicentre for painting, employing the greatest Italian portraitists, among them David, Francesco Trevisani, Louis-Gabriel Blanchet and Rosalba Carriera.

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