Portraiture, Dynasty and Power: Art Patronage in Hanoverian Britain, 1714–1759

by Catherine Tite


Recent scholarship has reassessed the public image of the early Hanoverian dynasty as one which captured the popular imagination and encouraged a dynamic relationship with the inhabitants of urban Britain and the social elite. According to some historians, the Georgian monarchy’s contribution to the cultural life of Great Britain remained minimal until after the accession of George III in 1760. Contributions by Clarissa Campbell Orr, Andrew Hanham, Robert Bucholz and Hannah Smith, however, have significantly enriched our understanding of the cultural activities and politics of the early eighteenth-century London court of St James’s. Further insights have been provided on the subject of eighteenth-century British monarchy and its visual culture by Frances Vivian, David Watkin, Marcia Pointon, Frank Prochaska, and Clifford Geertz––the first to argue that the iconography of European monarchy was synchronous with cultural change in an influential article, Centers, Kings and Charisma (1968).

This book explores how and why perceptions of the British monarchy in visual culture changed during a period of growing social mobility and political modernity. In contrast to some recent scholarship, it works upon the central premise that cultural patronage by Hanoverians played a role in the production of their social identity. It systematically addresses the monarchy’s active role in the patronage of British artists, sculptors, and architects which demonstrated their refined tastes and, additionally, their “Britishness”. In a parallel case study, the author illustrates how courtly patronage in continental Germany (inspired by models from France or England) became an indicator of elite social status and cosmopolitan sophistication.

The book further expands the insights reached in recent studies of Hanoverian patronage by amassing a wide variety of visual evidence including engraved portrait heads, miniatures, ephemeral art forms, and painting in conventional genres. Formulaic state portraiture and the efforts made by British and European-trained portraitists to vary conventions of depiction are discussed in the context of royal commissions and spaces of display.

The book delineates, chapter by chapter, specific patrons (George II, Caroline of Ansbach, Frederick Prince of Wales, Anne, Princess Royal and Frederick and Mary of Hesse Cassel) and examines the cultural life of their courts (St James’s, Leicester House and Schloss Wilhelmstahl). Based on original evidence from archives in Britain and Germany, this study presents new research on the early eighteenth-century Royal family and offers a close study of the little-explored question of the early Georgian monarchy’s connection to protestant dynastic houses in continental Europe. The book immerses the reader in richly detailed descriptions of courtly space, country houses belonging to courtiers and elite supporters of the Hanoverian succession, and the perceptions of both by contemporary eighteenth-century observers. It also includes many rare color images.

Portraiture, Dynasty and Power will be a valuable resource to scholars of British history, British and European art, and history of collections. Given the book’s general but close discussion of monarchy, it will also appeal to the general reader.


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