Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
Michael Alphonsus Shen Fu-Tsung (d. 1691), 'The Chinese Convert'
Kneller was born in Lubeck, studied with Rembrandt in Amsterdam and by 1676 was working in England as a fashionable portrait painter. He painted seven British monarchs (Charles II, James II, William III, Mary II, Anne, George I and George II), though his portraits of Charles II are not longer in the collection, and in 1715 was the first artist to be made a Baronet (the next was John Everett Millais in 1885). A set of portraits of naval heroes was given by George IV to the Royal Naval Hospital in Greenwich in 1824.
The sitter was born of Chinese Christian parents and came to Europe at the instigation of Father Philip Couplet, Procurator of the China Jesuits in Rome. After leaving Macao in 1681 they travelled together in Italy, France and England. Shen Fu-Tsung left England in 1688 for Lisbon where he entered the Society of Jesus. He died near Mozambique on his way back to China in 1691.
Shen Fu-Tsung seems to have been a well-known figure at the English Court and this portrait was painted for James II. The first reference to this work is by the naval surgeon, James Yonge, who saw Shen Fu-Tsung at Windsor in July 1687, describing him as a 'pale-faced fellow who had travelled from his country and become a papist (his picture being done very well like him in one of the King's lodgings)'.
The painting can be categorised as both a religious image and as a portrait. The composition succeeds on the basis of the unaffected sense of design and the directness of the characterisation. The fact that the sitter looks upwards away from the viewer suggests divine inspiration. According to Horace Walpole, 'Of all his works, Sir Godfrey was most proud of the converted Chinese at Windsor'.