A Jacobite Gazetteer - The Vatican

Monument to the Stuart Kings

Stuart Monument
Stuart Monument

Relief portraits
Relief portraits

Against the first pier of the left aisle of Saint Peter's Basilica is the Stuart Monument. This is one of the few monuments in the basilica which is raised in memory of a non-pope (although there are a number of non-papal monuments in the crypt).

The white marble monument is in the form of an ancient pagan funerary stele. Two mourning angels of death stand to the left and right of the entrance to a tomb. Above are the relief portraits of King James III and VIII (left), King Henry IX and I (centre), and King Charles III (right). The whole is surmounted with the royal arms.

When King James died in 1766 and was buried in the crypt of the basilica, Pietro Bracci was engaged to design a monument to James' memory. 1 Nothing further, however, came of the project.

In 1810 Monsignor Angelo Cesarini, executor of the estate of King Henry commissioned Antonio Canova to design a monument to Henry's memory. 2 A price of 9,000 Roman scudi was agreed upon, but it seems that not all of this was paid. 3 Canova prepared a first design for the monument which is now in the Biblioteca Nazionale di Firenze (the National Library of Florence). 4 A second design is in the Museo Civico di Bassano. 5 The project for the monument, however, then languished.

In 1815 Canova was in London at the same time as King Henry's protegé Cardinal Ercole Consalvi. Various discussions seem to have taken place, eventually resulting in the Hereditary Prince of Hanover (who called himself "Prince Regent" and later "George IV") granting Canova 50,000 francs to complete the project. 6

With the financial backing for the project now certain, a change was made to include James III and VIII and Charles III in the monument as well. 7 Canova prepared a new design for the monument which included the portraits of James and Charles, but still had a cardinal's hat at the very top of the monument; a sketch of this design is now in the Museo Civico in Bassano del Grappa. 8 Finally Canova prepared a gesso model which is now in the Museo Canova in Possagno.

In 1819 the completed monument was installed in the basilica.

The Latin inscription reads as follows:

To James III,
son of James II, King of Great Britain,
to Charles Edward,
and to Henry, Dean of the Cardinal Fathers,
sons of James III,
the last of the Royal House of Stuart,

On the lintel above the scultped tomb-door is a quotation from the Book of Revelation 14:13:

Blessed are the dead
who die in the Lord.


1 "Magick Land", Apollo 99 (June 1974), 407. A pen and ink drawing of the project is owned by the Art Institute of Chicago. Pietro Bracci was born in Rome in 1700, and died in the same city in 1773. He sculpted the figures in the Monument to Queen Clementina in St. Peter's Basilica.

2 Antonio Canova was born in Possagno, near Treviso, in 1757, and died in Venice in 1822. He was the foremost sculptor of his time. Queen Louise commissioned him to sculpt the monument to Count Vittorio Alfieri in the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence.

3The original contract is preserved in the Biblioteca Civica in Bassano del Grappa (Mss. Canoviani, IV. 101); the text is reproduced in Stella Rudolph, "Il monumento Stuart del Canova: un committente dimenticato e il primo pensiero ritrovato", Antologia di belle arti 16 (1980): 49-51. The contract specifies that the 9,000 scudi were to be paid in portions of 1,000 scudi annually. This sum was at the time equivalent to approximately 150 pounds sterling.

4 The design is reproduced in Rudolph, 46.

5 Maria Sofia Lilli, Aspetti dell'Arte Neoclassica: Sculture nelle Chiese Romane, 1780-1845 (Istituto Nazionale di Studie Romani, 1991), 63.

6 50,000 francs (the approximate equivalent of 200 pounds sterling) was somewhat more than the original agreed price of 9,000 scudi. In a letter to his friend Count Leopoldo Cicognara, December 7, 1816, Canova writes: "La somma somministrata dal Governo inglese per il monumento del Cardinale Duca fu di franchi 50.000, a titolo di gratificazione arbitraria e graziosa, per concorrere in qualche parte alla spesa del monumento; ma niuno vi mettera sopra un soldo, e questa somma dovra bastare per tutta l'opera" (The sum granted by the English Government for the monument of the Cardinal Duke was of 50,000 francs, as a sign of arbitrary and gracious favour, to contribute in part to the cost of the monument; but nobody will give a penny more, and this sum must suffice for the entire work); cf. Antonio Canova, Epistolario, 1816-1817 (Roma: Salerno), I, 2002, 553. The figure of 50,000 francs has been misunderstood by a number of English-language writers; one source suggests that the payment was only 5,000 francs, but this is obviously a typographic error. Ceyrep, "Dates of Births and Deaths of the Pretenders", Notes and Queries IX (February 25, 1854), 177, says that the Hereditary Prince of Hanover "sent a donation of fifty pounds for the purpose to Pius VII", but this also is a misunderstanding of the figure of 50,000 francs.

7 Presumably this change took place only as late as 1817 or even 1818. In a letter to Canova, dated January 10, 1817 (the year of the letter is not certain), Queen Louise, King Henry's sister-in-law writes, "Je suis persuadée que vous ferez un beau monument pour le Cardinal mon beau frère" (I am certain that you will make a lovely monument for the cardinal my brother-in-law); cf. Canova, Epistolario, II, 618. In a letter to Leopoldo Cicognara, dated August 9, 1817, Canova writes, "Si preparerà la creta per il modello del papa Pio VI e per quello del Cardinale di Yorck: ma non so se potrò terminarli ambidue" (You will prepare the clay for the model of Pope Pius VI and for that of the Cardinal of York, but I do not know if I will be able to finish both); cf. Canova, Epistolario, II, 946. In an article of March 25, 1818 The Times refers to "the monument to the memory of the Cardinal York", without any mention of the addition of James III and VIII or Charles III.

8 Fred Licht, Canova (New York: Abbeville, 1983), 87. Il Museo Civico di Bassano: I Disegni di Antonio Canova, edited by Elena Bassi (Venezia: Neri Pozza, 1959), 192.

Image 1 (Stuart Monument): Loretta Santini, Vatican City (Narni, Italy: Plurigraf, n.d.), 45.

Image 2 (Relief portraits): © Noel S. McFerran 2001.

This page is maintained by Noel S. McFerran (noel.mcferran@rogers.com) and was last updated March 29, 2012.
© Noel S. McFerran 2000-2012.