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"The King over the Water: The Life of Prince James Francis Edward Stuart
2001-04-27 until 2001-09-30
Scottish National Portrait Gallery
UK United Kingdom
The King over the Water, the toast raised to James Stuart by his Jacobite supporters, tells the story of the man who so nearly became Britain's longest-reigning king. Instead, the talented, cultured though disappointed man that was James Stuart is best known as the Old Pretender. The exhibition follows James Stuart's turbulent life and constantly changing fortunes as he moved like a piece on the political chessboard of eighteenth-century Europe. James and his family sat to the greatest painters of their day, as a central ingredient of their long campaign of political propaganda, maintained from 1689 until the late 1740s. It was vital for them that James's regal image be ubiquitous, and that he was seen to resemble both of his parents – to dispel the Whigs' 'warming-pan myth' that he was a surrogate child.
James Francis Edward Stuart was a king without a throne: the uncrowned heir of King James VII and II. His birth in 1688 plunged Britain into crisis for it seemed inevitable that the infant Prince would be brought up a Roman Catholic and would want to impose his religion on his fellow-countrymen.
To prevent that, William of Orange led a Protestant coup d’état – the Glorious Revolution – causing the royal family and their chief advisors to escape to safety in France. In 1701 – exactly 300 years ago – the Act of Settlement was passed, preventing James from acceding to the throne that year.
For two decades the Jacobite court, in exile near Versailles, employed the same portrait painters as the court of France, including Pierre Mignard, Nicholas de Largillière, François de Troy, and Alexis-Simon Belle. After their move to Rome the family had access to the greatest Italian portraitists, including Antonio David, Francesco Trevisani, Louis-Gabriel Blanchet and Rosalba Carriera. These oil paintings were disseminated as engravings and medals, which went into mass circulation in both England and Scotland.
One of the key images in the exhibition is an important new acquisition by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Bought early this year, with generous grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and The Art Fund, this impressive painting will be unveiled for the first time at the opening of The King over the Water.
Concluding the exhibition is a near life-size reconstruction of Canova’s magnificent tomb to the exiled Stuarts, erected in St Peter's, Rome at the expense of King George IV. It is a fitting monument to the last of the Stuarts and to the reconciliation between the royal houses of Stuart and Hanover that could only be effected by death.