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King James II is depicted in armour, with a campaign tent behind him – an allusion to his military prowess. A coat of arms surrounded by entwined thistles and roses is thought to symbolise the governance of Scotland and England by a single monarch. In his 2010 catalogue of 'Later Stuart Portraits', art historian John Ingamells indicates his misgivings about the identity of the sitter in this portrait, but does not elucidate. He also lists two other versions of the painting, one in the collection at Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire, and another, sold through Sotheby’s, London, in 1996.
James II of England and VII of Scotland was the son of Charles I, who was executed during the Civil Wars in 1649. James’s elder brother, Charles II, was restored to the throne in 1660. At the time this portrait was painted, in the early 1660s, James was still Duke of York, a title bestowed on him soon after birth. During his time in exile James II fought with the Spanish and French armies. After his brother’s accession to the throne, he was made Lord High Admiral of England.
John Michael Wright was the son of a London tailor. He was apprenticed to G. Jamesone in Edinburgh from the age of 19. From 1642, for some ten years, he lived in Rome and was a member of the Academy of St Luke. He also practised in France and ‘other parts’. After returning to England he became Picture Drawer to Charles II, producing royal portraits and designs for Charles’s bedchamber at Whitehall Palace. Reaction to the Popish Plot caused Wright to temporarily relocate to Dublin in 1678. James II’s accession in 1685 brought further royal commissions and Wright designed coaches, costumes and decorations for the procession accompanying an embassy to the Pope. Wright’s career declined during his later years and he died in relative poverty.
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