These impressive Jacobite portraits of King James III and Princess Maria Clementina were painted whilst they were in exile from Britain and indeed before they were married. From 1717 James was resident in Italy and continued to use portraiture as an important tool in building support and interest in the Stuart cause.
The original painting of James by Francesco Trevisani was created in 1718 on the suggestion of the Earl of Mar. He was considered an important choice as an artist due to his wide international reputation, and this would further promote the importance of the images.
Undoubtedly, the portraits are striking in their claim to the British throne; depicting James in the full regalia of the Order of the Garter, thereby illustrating his desire to be recognised as a ‘British King’ in all his glory. This bold statement was even more significant as the original portrait was commissioned to be sent to Maria Clementina, who James was yet to marry. The message clearly stating that she was marrying into a Royal family of right, rather than to the king of an exiled court lacking a throne.
The portrait would not however reach Maria as intended, as she was captured by the Austrian Emperor Charles VI whilst en route to marry James. Charles was opposed to the pairing and held her captive in Innsbruck. Following her daring escape in 1719 she was finally presented with the portrait in Bologna.
Immediately, copies of the King James and accompanying Maria Clementina portraits were ordered and presented to supporters, including the Earl of Mar. The popularity of these pictures was so great that in 1720 more copies were created to fulfil the demand. The original portrait of Maria is now with the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, acquired in 1918 (PG 886).
The current portraits have descended from a private family collection and have been recorded as being at Seton Castle since the vendor's grandfather-in-law, W.B. Dunlop, resided there from the late 1800s until his death in 1946. His son catalogued these portraits and stated that they were a set of presentation portraits, given to the Tytler family in recognition of their support for the Jacobite cause.
The Tytler families’ Stuart and Jacobite support is long and well recorded. As early as the 16th century one of the Setons of Seton Palace (now Seton Castle), believed to be the chaplain, fled to France after committing a murder. There he changed his name to Tytler, settled, married and had several children. Two of his sons accompanied Mary, Queen of Scots to Scotland in 1561. After the Troubles, the Tytlers were officially recognised and accepted as Seton descendants but opted to retain the name of Tytler.
Following the 1715 Jacobite rising, all the lands of the Setons, including Seton Palace, were confiscated. They were first sold in 1719 and again in 1779, bought by Lt Col Alexander Mackenzie WS. In 1789 Mackenzie started the demolition of Seton Palace, building Seton Castle in its place to a design by Robert Adam, completed in 1791.