Born in Palazzo Muti in Rome on 6 March 1725, Henry Benedict was the second son of James Francis Edward (1688-1766) and his wife the Polish princess Clementina, née Sobieska (1702-1735). His father claimed to be James VIII and III, rightful King of England, Scotland and Ireland; his elder brother Charles Edward (1720-1788) was known to the Jacobites as Prince of Wales; and Henry bore the title of Duke of York. Henry was close to his brother Charles and supported him in an early, failed invasion of England in 1744. However, Henry's decision to be made a cardinal-deacon in 1747 put their relationship under great pressure, being in direct conflict with the Jacobite cause in Protestant Britain. On Charles' death in December 1788, Henry considered himself to be the rightful King Henry XI, adjusting his coat of arms accordingly and styling himself Cardinal, called Duke of York.
James III commissioned Antonio David to paint portraits of the two young Princes on their return from Bologna to Rome in 1729 (Edinburgh, Scottish National Portrait Gallery), instructing him to show them 'a little older than life' so that the portraits could be copied in the coming years. The present portrait is likely to have been painted around the same moment; the fact that the sitter looks younger than in the Edinburgh miniature can be explained by James's instructions. There are no documents that testify to a separate commission by James III for a portrait or miniature from David, or any other artist, in 1729, but given that this miniature is painted on silver the commission is likely to have come from someone in his immediate circle, quite possibly the boy's mother, Queen Clementina.
We are grateful to Edward Corp for his assistance in cataloguing this miniature. We would also like to thanks Francesco Petrucci for suggesting, on the basis of photographs, that the portrait may have been painted by Domenico Duprà in Rome in circa 1730-31.