Published: November 16, 2004
Works of Art from the Drambuie Collection
“A rose is a rose is a rose,” wrote the American belletrist Gertrude Stein, who might have concluded otherwise had she studied the Scottish romantics Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott more closely.
As Burns and Scott both well knew, the white rose – along with crowns, oak leaves and assorted other motifs – were once potent, even treasonable, symbols of Scottish nationalism; a pictorial pledge of allegiance to the exiled House of Stuart, the rightful heirs to the throne in the eyes of many Eighteenth Century Britons.
The deployment of these symbols in the fashionable art of the day and the tragic saga of the Scottish attempts to reclaim the crown is told in “Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Royal House of Stuart, 1688-1788,” at Winterthur through January 16.
The exhibition of 117 objects – including English and Scottish glass, paintings, works on paper and medals bearing the likeness, mottoes or symbols of the exiled dynasty – is drawn from the holdings of the show’s organizer, Drambuie Liqueur Company Ltd. Not only has the collection not traveled before, it has until now been seen in Drambuie’s corporate headquarters in Edinburgh, Scotland, by appointment only.
Robinson spent five years at The Fine Arts Society, the 128-year-old London dealership that is as famous for Whistler etchings and Turner watercolors as for William de Morgan pottery and Christopher Dresser metalware. He joined Drambuie 12 years ago, about the time that the distillers began forming a collection rich in Scottish paintings, ceramics and furniture.
From the beginning, Drambuie was especially interested in Jacobite art. The word “Jacobite” refers to the Stuart king, James VII of Scotland and II of England (Jacobus in Latin), the grandfather of Bonnie Prince Charlie. As history records, James was forced into exile in 1688, when the Protestant King William of Orange and his wife, Queen Mary, ascended to the throne. When the childless Queen Anne died in 1714, leaving no direct Protestant heirs, the crown passed to George Lewis, Elector of Hanover, despite the fact that the Hanoverian, a Protestant, was 59th in line of succession.
From their exiled court in Paris, the Stuarts made several attempts to regain the crown. After the failed uprising of 1715, the Stuart court moved to Rome, where the Pope offered sanctuary. Prince Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Silvester Maria Stuart, better known as “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” was born in Rome in 1720. In 1745, he adopted the costume and manners of a Highland chieftain to lead the famous uprising that resulted in Scotland’s devastating defeat.
Despite their valiant attempts, the Stuarts never regained Scotland, Ireland and England. During their centurylong wait, their partisan supporters, the Jacobites, created or commissioned objects that affirmed their loyalty to the Stuarts. Because such loyalty was treasonable, many of the objects produced were small and easily concealed, or encoded with symbols only fellow believers were meant to decipher.
The 1745 Uprising, writes Nicholson, has been “seen as a victory of English force over Scottish bravery, to be followed by the attempted genocide of a native population by a ruthless English military. The truth is rather different. The arrival of Prince Charles in Scotland without military support or supplies dismayed the Highland Chiefs, many of whom pleaded for him to go away.”
Drambuie’s association with Bonnie Prince Charlie dates to 1746, when Bonnie Prince Charlie is said to have given a recipe for whiskey liqueur to a MacKinnon of Skye in gratitude for his assistance. It was not until 1900 that Malcolm MacKinnon founded Drambuie Liqueur Company, which began commercial production in 1908. The company is today run by MacKinnon’s grandson.
“Interest in their heritage and in the heritage of Scotland prompted the current generation of the family to collect,” Nicholson explains.
In a stroke of beginner’s luck, Drambuie privately acquired, in a deal brokered by Sotheby’s, a trove of Eighteenth Century engraved Jacobite glasses that had been assembled by a collector living in Florida. It was the collector’s wish that the cache not only stay together but return to Scotland.
“To be honest, the glasses should have taken 50 years to acquire,” says the curator. In the 1990s, Drambuie was also blessed by the fortuitous coincidence of several major house sales containing Jacobite property, as well several important single-owner auctions.
“Because of the romance of these objects, we’ve found that when pieces come up at auction and are well-publicized the prices go mad. Frequently buying privately, we’ve tried to quietly establish a collection of material that is genuine and aesthetic. Locks of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s hair and that sort of thing we avoid,” he says, acknowledging the quantity of dubious relics on the market today.
Against a backdrop of rich, royal blue, the Winterthur exhibition unfolds with all spotlights trained on a single, sparkling piece, the Spottiswoode “Amen” wine glass of circa 1745. Elaborately engraved with the verses of the Jacobite anthem, the cipher of King James VIII of Scotland and the word “Amen” (“Let It Be”), the 81/4-inch air-twist vessel is the most costly example of Jacobite glass ever auctioned. It sold at Sotheby’s in London in 1991 for $112,200. Preserved for many years by the Spottiswoode family in Berwickshire, the glass spent most of the Nineteenth Century hidden in a box under a staircase in the family manse. The Spottiswoode glass is considered the finest of the 37 known “Amen” glasses engraved between 1730 and 1745.
“The others are scattered around. One of the largest groups of ‘Amen’ glasses is at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which owns four,” says the curator.
Jacobite glasses, about 500 extant examples of which have been recorded, are the quintessential expression of Jacobite design. Used for toasts at the end of official dinners, they were passed over water bowls to signify the Stuart king in exile, “over the water.” For this reason, the Crown banned water bowls at state banquets until 1903.
Nearly 60 pieces of glass – including decanters, flasks and punch bowls – are featured in “Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Royal House of Stuart, 1688-1788.” A large, two-handled loving cup of circa 1750, the only one of its kind known, is engraved with both a rose and bud and a daffodil and bud. The loving cup was most likely filled with a Drambuie-like punch and passed around at convivial gatherings.
The rose, which appears so frequently on engraved glasses, was adopted by Jacobites as their symbol early in the Eighteenth Century. After 1745, it is nearly always accompanied by one or two buds, symbolizing James and his heirs, Charles and Henry. Other common Jacobite symbols include birds, compasses, sunflowers, moths, butterflies, crowns and oak leaves.
The curator’s favorite piece is a not a glass but an anonymous painting of Bonnie Prince Charlie that dates to about 1750.
“The ‘Harlequin’ portrait is a fascinating picture. It’s naive yet idealized,” says Nicholson. Possibly by an Italian artist, the full-length portrait shows the prince, dressed in tartan plaid, against a craggy Scottish landscape and a castle.
The “Harlequin” portrait – one of perhaps 20 versions that once hung in the homes of wealthy Jacobites – is joined in the exhibition by a dozen full-sized and miniature views of the prince and the Stuart Royal family by French, Italian and Scottish artists.
Easily concealed in jewelry or snuff boxes, miniature portraits were especially popular among Jacobite collectors. Miniatures on view include a matched pair of portraits of Prince Charles and his brother, Prince Henry. Dating to 1734, the oil on ivory likenesses are by the Venetian-born artist Antonio David, the court painter appointed by James VIII and III in 1718.
Closely related to the miniatures are medals, 13 of which are on view. Not only were they made by some of the finest craftsmen of the age, they have, among all Jacobite art, survived in greatest number. Crafted by Ottone Hamerani, a gilt-bronze medal of 1731 is one of the most important. It depicts Prince Charles and is inscribed with a motto that translates, “He shines among all.”
Among the six maps and manuscripts featured, the “Holyrood” letter documents a pivotal moment in British history. Written in longhand by Prince Charles to King Louis XV of France in 1745, the missive is an impassioned plea for the monarch’s support on the eve of the uprising.
“Had it been better received, and had the French invaded England, it is almost certain that the course of British history would have been changed,” writes Nicholson. Drambuie purchased the letter privately from a collector in England.
“Documents like these very rarely get on the open market,” notes the curator, citing the Royal Collection at Windsor as the major repository for Jacobite documents.
Thousands of Jacobites immigrated to North America before and after the 1745 uprising. Among the best known was General James Edward Oglethorpe, a founder of Savannah who is called “the father of Georgia.” Ironically, many New World Jacobites supported the British during the Revolutionary War and were thus not well liked in the American colonies.
In conjunction with “Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Royal House of Stuart, 1688-1788,” an exhibition catalog of the same name is for sale in Wintherthur’s gift shop for $25. The curator is also the author of Bonnie Prince Charlie and The Making of The Myth, A Study In Portraiture, published by Bucknell University Press.
Jacobite symbolism only partly reflects Scottish nationalists’ need for secrecy, writes Nicholson, observing that obscure satires and complex visual puns were cherished by the educated Eighteenth Century elite.
With that in mind, Winterthur is concurrently exhibiting, “From Punch Bowls to Puzzle Jugs: Drinking Vessels and Traditions in Britain and America.” On view through January 9, the exhibition arrays punch bowls, puzzle jugs, flasks, decanters and other drinking vessels used by Americans for public celebrations in private gatherings of the Seventeenth through the Nineteenth centuries in homes and taverns.
One question is not answered by “Bonnie Prince Charlie and The Royal House of Stuart” – What is the recipe for Drambuie?
The secret, as closely guarded as any “Amen” cup or treasonous miniature, has been passed down in the female side of the MacKinnon family for generations. Company documents describe the elixir – whose Gaelic name, “An dram buidheach,” means “the drink that pleases” – as aged whiskey with a hint of heather, honey, herbs and spices.
If Robinson knows the recipe, he is not telling. “I wish I knew,” he says with a laugh.
Winterthur, on Route 52 six miles northwest of Wilmington, is open from 10 am to 5 pm Tuesday through Sunday. It is closed Mondays except holiday weekends, Thanksgiving and Christmas. For information, 800-448-3883 or
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