Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
James II and Family
In this painting Pierre Mignard depicts what could have been Britain’s alternative royal family. Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the Catholic King James II (1633–1701), his consort Mary of Modena (1673–1718) and their newborn son James Francis Edward (1688–1766), were forced to leave England for France. James’s first cousin, French King Louis XIV, provided them with the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, close to Versailles and here the Stuart king lived in great splendour, maintaining much of the ceremony of the English court. Despite being prepared to return to England in the same way that his brother Charles II had done in 1660, neither James II nor his son and grandson – the ‘Old’ and the ‘Young Pretenders’ – succeeded in regaining the British throne.
James II is shown veritably enthroned and dressed in the full regalia of the Order of the Garter. Queen Mary, also seated on an armchair, wears a yellow-gold dress embroidered with flowers and contrasted with an ermine-lined blue mantel pinned to her shoulders. At the centre of the picture, sits their two-year-old daughter Princess Louisa Maria Teresa holding a rose – a reference to the Royal Badge of England, which James II continued to use in exile. On the other side of the Queen stands her six-year-old son James, dressed in armour adorned with the blue Order of the Garter sash, pointing to a green velvet cushion upon which rest a small-scale Imperial crown and sword. The painting alludes to the education of the aspirant Prince of Wales, who was being prepared to return to Britain in order to claim the Crown – which was clearly made to fit him.
This work is a finished oil-sketch for a much larger composition, now in a private collection, one of the last great works by Mignard. Appointed First Painter to King of France in 1690, the accomplished colourist died only a few months after its completion. Unusually the sittings took place at different places and were witnessed by numerous courtiers, and on one occasion by Louis XIV himself. The canvas travelled from the artist’s studio to Saint-Germain, then to Versailles and finally back to the studio, where the old and feeble painter put his finishing touches in November 1694.
Text adapted from The First Georgians: Art and Monarchy 1714-1760, London, 2014.