Optimism, ctd.

January 3 2013

Video: Bob Gillespie

I don't recommend you spend 40 minutes of your life watching the above film, recently uploaded to YouTube, but it's one of the strangest examples of an over-optimistic identification you'll find. I mentioned the case last Autumn, but I keep getting email updates from the picture's proponent about the latest 'evidence'.

Sadly, there is no evidence whatsoever that this so-called 'Versailles Portrait'  (though it has no link to Versailles at all) shows Prince Charles Edward Stuart, also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie. The portrait shows an unknown man wearing the French Order of the St. Esprit. Charles was never given this order, and in any case was almost without exception portrayed wearing the English Order of the Garter, which, in sash form, is worn over the left shoulder. The basis for the identification to Charles is made on a dubious 'likeness' basis, and the fact that the sitter's coat is claimed to feature oak leaves and thistles, though they could in fact be any form of leaves or flowers, and in any case neither attribute can be used to prove Stuart identification.

I don't mean to damn the picture too harshly, but these days once pictures appear online with apparently convincing 'proof', it isn't long before they crop up erroneously in books and newspapers.

Update - a reader has surely cracked it:

I am something of a recent subscriber to your excellent website so did not see any earlier postings about the so called Versailles portrait of BPC.  However the portrait I suspect might be of the Comte de Maurepas.  I say this as the sitter appears very similar to a full length by van Loo engraved by Petit and he seems to be wearing the same fancy coat.  It was the detail of the design of the coat which put me on to the possibility.

What an excellent bit of sleuthing - it must be him. The 'Versailles portrait' is a reduced copy after the full-length. If you reverse the engraving so that it follows the direction of the original painting (as I have below), then the details of the coat and overall composition match up well. The sash has been modified in the engraving and an insignia added, so that even though the engraved composition was reversed, people would have been in no doubt that the sitter was wearing the Saint Esprit.

Update III - following the revelations above, the video has now been removed, and the new identity accepted. The case is a good example of art historical crowd-sourcing in action.

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