Secret Portrait
West Highland Museum

At first glance, this object appears to be a smear of oil paints on a black wooden board. However, this very special painting is actually an example of anamorphic art. This means that it appears distorted at first glance but, when viewed from a particular position, the image is rendered more normal. In this case, when paired with a mirrored cylinder, Prince Charles Edward Stuart – or Bonnie Prince Charlie – is reflected back.    

In the eighteenth century, it was treasonable to support the exiled Stuart dynasty, so their supporters, known as Jacobites, devised secret ways to display their loyalty. They developed an elaborate series of codes and symbols to hide their allegiances from the ruling Hanoverian regime.   

This is one of the most unusual examples of Jacobite material culture. The portrait would have been used to drink toasts to the exiled Prince. If a non-Jacobite came into the room, the cylinder could be whisked away and allegiances hidden.  

Roll Over The Image To Zoom In

Date: 1740-1780
Materials : Oil on Wood
Size : 35cm x 28cm

Associated Activities

On Reflection

Memorialising… The Glencoe Massacre



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