MEMPHIS, TENN.- Today the significance of Bonnie Prince Charlie is reduced to an emblem on a shortbread tin. But in 18th-century Europe, the life of the Scottish Prince Charles Edward Stuart propelled a movement and rebellion that inspired myths, political upheaval, and some of the most exquisite works of art and craft of the period.
An unrivaled collection of works from this turbulent chapter in history will be seen for the first time outside of the United Kingdom in Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Royal House of Stuart, 1688-1788: Works of Art from the Drambuie Collection. The nationwide exhibition ends its tour at The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, on view from May 22 through August 28, 2005.
The works of art in this extraordinary exhibition represent the apogee of European decorative arts in the eighteenth century, said Dixon Director Jay Kamm. In Britain, it was a period as elegant and graceful as it was unstable and violent. The story of the deposed Stuart kings of England and Scotland is the stuff of romantic legend and lore. The Drambuie Collection tells this story in the way it should be told.
Rarely has art created for propagandistic ends taken so luxe a form. From portrait paintings and miniatures, to engraved glass, to gold and silver medals, to ceramics, the works gathered in this exhibition were commissioned in secrecy from some of the finest craftsman of the day to support the claim to the British throne made by the Stuarts, the Scottish royal family descended from the great Scot hero, Robert the Bruce.
For a hundred years many Scots lived in daily expectation of the return of the man they believed to be their rightful ling. Their vigil began in 1688, when Protestant enemies forced the Catholic King James VII of Scotland and II of England to flee with his family to France, and continued through 1745, when Prince Charles adopted the costume and manners of an idealized Highland chieftain during a famous uprising, and ended only with the death of Prince Charles Edward Stuart in 1788. These partisans became known as Jacobites, from the Latin root of the name James (Jacobus). Several thousand were exiled to America in the 1700s. Among the prominent Jacobean figures in U.S. history is James Oglethorpe, founder of Savannah and a general in the British Army.
Organization and Sponsorship - Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Royal House of Stuart, and its nationwide tour have been made possible by The Drambuie Liqueur Company of Edinburgh, Scotland. The 117 works of art and artifacts on view in the exhibition, including hand-written letters and other rare manuscripts, are drawn solely from the companys collection, regarded as the finest of its kind in the world. Although the scholarly collection is usually accessible only by appointment in Edinburgh, works are regularly loaned to museums both in Britain and abroad.
The roots of the Drambuie Liqueur Company may be traced directly to the period of history examined by this exhibition. In 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie bequeathed to the MacKinnon clan of Skye, the owners of Drambuie, the recipe for scotch whisky liqueur still followed today. (For more information, visit www. Drambuie.com.)
Robin Nicholson, curator of Drambuie collection, has organized this exhibition. Born in Edinburgh, Mr. Nicholson was educated at the Edinburgh Academy, Queens University, Ontario and Cambridge University, before spending a number of years working for the leading dealers in British art, The Fine Art Society. He has written articles on Scottish and Jacobite art and aspects of collecting for both academic and non-academic journals and has curated several touring exhibitions to museums and galleries in Britain and abroad. He is the author of the recently published book, Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Making of a Myth, A Study in Portraiture, Bucknell University Press.
These works demonstrate how the Jacobites, in creating an abiding tartan-clad iconography, invented a myth so large that it came to eclipse the reality of their adored leader, Bonnie Prince Charlie while he was still alive, said Mr. Nicholson.
Loyalist Scots gathered and consolidated their support in social clubs at a time when the art of glass making in Britain was unmatched in the world. Through this historical convergence, the lowly drinking glass became the focal point of intensely competitive craftsmanship, displaying a gamut of inventive engraved verse and symbols and mottoes for an educated, tightly bound elite who enjoyed elaborate word games, visual puns and riddles. On view in Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Royal House of Stuart are 58 drinking glasses from the unequalled holdings of Jacobite glass in the Drambuie collection.
The centerpiece of this selection is the finest, rarest and most valuable example of an Amen glass, a form of drinking glass bearing a subversive toast to the King oer the Water. The tour-de-force Spottiswoode Amen Glass, c. 1745, an unequaled example of free-hand engraving, drawn trumpet bowl and spiral air twist stem, spent, most of the 19th century stored in a special box in a cupboard under the stairs of the Spottiswoode house. Given its clear espousal of loyalty to the Catholic pretender to the throne, possession of this glass would have been reason enough for a death sentence in 18th century Britain.
Full-size and miniature portraits of the Prince and the Stuart royal family by leading French and Scottish artists, including Francois de Troy, Antonio David and Cosmo Alex ander, are featured in the exhibition, as well as extraordinary miniatures commissioned for concealment in jewelry or under the lid of a snuff box. The most unique of the miniature portraits is a matched pair executed in oil on ivory depicting 14 year-old Prince Charles and his brother Prince Henry in armor, painted by the Venetian-born artist David, who served as court portraitist to the Stuarts.
One of the most poignant objects in the exhibition is The Holyrood Letter, a pivotal document in the history of the Jacobite uprising of 1745 and one of very few handwritten letters by Prince Charles still in a private collection. In this respectful request, the Scottish nephew pleads with his uncle, the King of France, for military aid in the Jacobite insurrection against the Protestant Hanover dynasty of Britain. Had King Louis XV acceded to this request and invaded England, it is likely that the course of British history would have been changed.
An exceedingly fine and rare ladys fan, hand-painted with allegorical representations of the Jacobite cause; a bust of Prince Charles sculpted in 1747 by Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne; a gold medal c. 1731 reading micat inter omnes (he shines among all); a rare Staffordshire teapot bearing impressed design of roses and oak leaves; and a numbered ticket to a trial at the Palace of Westminster in London in 1746 that sent three Jacobite lords to their death, are among other works in the exhibition.