Mary Queen of Scots Separated from her Faithful Servant
(Pierre Révoil)


Mary Stuart’s tragic life and courageous death held a particular fascination for educated French society during the Bourbon Restoration though popular interest in Mary was evidenced earlier. Empress Josephine had herself acquired a version of Vermay’s Mary Hearing Her Death Sentence shortly after the first version was shown at the Salon of 1808. Although destined to rule over Scotland, whose history and people had been romanticized in the novels of Walter Scott, Mary’s mother, Marie of Guise, had insured that she was brought up as a French Princess and, indeed, Mary was married off to her cousin, King François II, when little more than a child. Following François’ death in 1558, Mary returned to a Scotland divided by religious differences. At first welcomed by her new subjects, she quickly became entangled with competing factions, and her devotion to her Catholic faith and a series of unwise alliances resulted in her imprisonment, and, ultimately, execution in 1587 on the orders of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England. The poignant history and romantic drama of Mary’s life and death were utilized to recall the execution of another Queen, Marie-Antoinette, who for the old aristocracy and members of the Bourbon court had become a symbol of royal martyrdom. Portrayals of Marie-Antoinette, however, were still too controversial for popular acceptance, especially with so many servants of the Bonaparte and Bourbon state having begun their careers as fervent revolutionaries.

Shortly after Mary’s death the Scotsman Adam Blackwood had published a history of her life. His was the first to focus on the reading of the death warrant, Mary’s brave acceptance of it, and the anguish of her attendants, the theme that Vermay chose for his large scale composition. Révoil chose the next moment in this unhappy tale, when Mary is being taken to the place of execution and separated from the faithful followers who had shared her imprisonment. Although lacking the drama of other events from Mary’s life, such as her close escapes and love affairs, this moment highlighted the psychological impact of her impending death and the Queen’s noble acceptance of her fate. These had been the themes of Schiller’s play Maria Stuart (1800), and a “lyric monologue” by Victor Joseph de Jouy, both of which may have inspired Révoil, whose composition and setting is organized much like a theatrical presentation. The painting, like a tableau vivant, can be read from left to right, beginning with the Earl of Shrewsbury, grasping his wand of office, who, in Elizabeth’s name, informed Mary that she had been found guilty and condemned to death; next Beal, the clerk of Elizabeth’s Council standing at the bottom of the steps, holds the warrant that he is seen reading to her in Vermay’s painting. In the center of the canvas Mary, holding a crucifix, the sacred emblem of her faith, stands with absolute calm beside another jailer, his keys in his belt. Emphasizing that it was her symbolism as the legitimate Catholic heiress to the English crown, in contrast with the illegitimate Elizabeth, that had brought her to this pass, while reminding us of the spiritual salvation after death of which Mary was confident. Clasping the Queen’s hands, desperation in their faces, two of her ladies-in-waiting and a gentleman of her suite collapse with the shock of the news. Behind Mary, in the shadows, stands another of Elizabeth’s jailers holding back two other gentlemen, both moved to tears at this sorry end to a twenty year imprisonment.

A note from Révoil himself mentioned a work by the English author, Thomas Birch, entitled The heads of illustrious persons of Great Britain, engraved by Houbraken and Vertue with their lives and characters (London, 1740), as a source upon which he drew. Révoil then described the Queen thus: “the day of her death she wore a mourning dress, but one of great splendor. She bore at her neck an Agnus dei attached to a chain of beads, a rosary at her belt and in her hand an ivory crucifix.” This is precisely how Mary is portrayed in Révoil’s painting, but it does not match the description in Birch’s book. The attention to these details, so characteristic of the artist, was not to the taste of all the critics; Delécluze commenting unfavorably on the explicit portrayal of the furniture, weapons and objects. For others, and in particular his patrons, this didactic antiquarianism was an element that recommended Révoil’s art and, indeed, in this subject he elevates both historical exactitude and dramatic pathos far beyond the merely anecdotal.

The life of Mary Stuart had been the subject of late eighteenth-century British pictures, most notably for Bowyer’s Historical Gallery, but these precedents were less significant to Révoil’s treatment of the theme than the training he received in David’s studio and his contact with colleagues in the “troubadour” school. Like the other David pupils who were attracted to non-classical history subjects, Révoil took an antiquarian interest in the past; the unprecedented degree of historical veracity that resulted in the details of a painting such as this are typical of the troubadour school and show a marked changed from more generalized eighteenth-century depictions.

This painting was commissioned by Edouard FitzJames, Duke of FitzJames (1776-1833), the head of the French branch of this family, directly descended from King James VII and II’s natural son, James, Marshal Duke of Berwick and Fitzjames. That James VII and II was himself a great-grandson of the unfortunate Queen no doubt influenced the Duke in choosing this subject. Shown at the Salon, however, it immediately appealed to the Duchess of Berry to whom the Duke deferred, commissioning instead a second version from the artist (whereabouts unknown). Caroline of Bourbon-Sicily, Duchess of Berry, was the most important collector of the Restoration period and, under the influence of the painter’s Turpin de Crissé and Coupin de la Couperie, had followed Empress Josephine (herself an artistic protégée of Turpin) as the principal patron of the Troubadour school. Married to the dissolute Charles, Duke of Berry, second son of the future King Charles X, she and her young son, Henri, Duke of Bordeaux, had represented the future of the dynasty following her husband’s assassination in 1820. This painting has its original frame, ornamented with the Bourbon fleurs de lys, and because it was not included in any of the Berry sales, presumably passed by descent until more recent times.

22 ½ x 27 ½ ins. 57 x 70 cm
Oil on canvas

Commissioned by the Duke of FitzJames (letter of 18 Nov 1820, cited by Chaudonneret, op.cit., p. 137), but acquired by the Duchess of Berry at the Salon of 1822 for 3000 francs; succession unknown; Private Collection, France.


E. J. Délecluze, Le Moniteur universel, 5 June 1822 (Review of the Salon); Charles Landon, Annales du Musée et de l’École moderne des Beaux Arts, Salon de 1822, Paris, 1822, volume 2, p. 59, pl. 35; P. A. “Notice sur l’exposition des tableaux en 1822, 4ème article”, La Revue encyclopédique, vol. 16, 1822, pp. 11-13; A. Thiers, “Salon de 1822. 90 article”, Le constitutionnel, 11 Juin 1822; Charles Landon, Choix de tableaux modernes dans la Galerie de Son Altesse Royale Mme la Duchesse de Berry, Paris, 1823; X. “les Beaux-Arts à Lyon”, revue du Lyonnais, 1872, II, p. 341; M. Audin and E. Vial, Dictionnaire des artistes et ouvriers d’art du lyonnais, 1919, Vol 2, p. 163; Marie-Claude Chaudonneret, La Peinture Troubadour, Paris, 1980, cat. no. 23, p. 137-138.


Paris, Salon, 1822, (no. 1081).

Historical Period
Neoclassicism - 1780-1820
Historical events
2001-European Paintings-From 1600-1917.
Baroque, Rococo, Romanticism, Realism, Futurism.

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Price band
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