The house where Sir Robert Strange (1721 – 1792) grew up at one time stood in what is now the forecourt of The Orkney Hotel. Sir Robert Strange was probably the best known of the 18th Century engravers.
After his schooling in Orkney, he travelled as a young man to Edinburgh where he was apprenticed as a Writer to the Signet to his stepbrother who had an established legal practice in the city. But Robert’s talents turned out to be more in the line of drawing and when his stepbrother came across his drawings by accident, he recognised his talent and he sought advice from artists. This led to Robert then being apprenticed to the engraver Richard Cooper. Robert began making engravings of the medical illustrations with anatomical teachers in Edinburgh, producing a number of engraved plates. It is likely that prints were made from these.
Robert Strange was a Jacobite sympathiser, supporting the cause of the Stuarts. In 1745, he enrolled in the forces of the Young Pretender, Prince Charles Edward Stuart as a member of the Prince’s Life Guards. He particularly did this to win the heart of a Miss Isabella Lumsden who was a fervent Jacobite. Robert took part in the campaigns of 1745 and 1746 and was at Prestonpans and Culloden. He produced a portrait of the Prince and also prepared engraved copper plates in preparation for the bank notes to be produced for the new Stuart King. But it was not to be.
Strange made his escape from the battlefield and it appears that he made his way to Edinburgh where he was sheltered by Miss Lumsden, to whom he was married in 1747. There is an amusing story of how she sheltered him from searching soldiers under the wide hoops of her skirt, while loudly singing some Jacobite songs!
Robert Strange departed to France, to Rouen, and took the Prince’s seal to the community of exiled Jacobites who were there.
While in France he studied further in anatomy, drawing and engraving, though eventually he returned to work in London in 1750.
In 1760 he returned again to France and Italy. He had a great admiration for Italian art and while working at the Vatican in Rome, making copies of the Vatican masterpieces, Prince Rezzonico, nephew of the reigning Pope, Clement XIII, as a tribute to Mr. Strange’s extraordinary merit, obtained for him an apartment in the palace for his residence, and a general permission to erect scaffolding where he pleased while copying at the Vatican! (Ref: https://archive.org/stream/memoirsofsirrobe01denniala/memoirsofsirrobe01denniala_djvu.txt)
His portrait was apparently painted on a ceiling in the print room at the Vatican by the Italian Tofanelli. (it would be interesting to see this – does anyone know any more?)
How did Robert Strange come to be knighted as Sir Robert Strange when he had started out on the side of the Jacobites? It appears that around 1759 he had refused a commission from the Prince of Wales (who became George III). However, later in his life he requested access to Windsor Castle to engrave two of the Van Dyck portraits of Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria with her family. Strange was indeed allowed to make copies of these portraits and also made copies of two portraits of King George III and Queen Charlotte’s sadly deceased sons Octavius and Alfred. Robert Strange had fallen back in favour with the King and to quote from the article by Professor W. I. C. Morris:
“There is a rather charming account of the manner in which the King informed Strange of his desire to confer a knighthood on him. “It is my desire, Mr Strange, to confer an honour upon you, that is, of course, provided you have no objection to receiving a knighthood at the hands of the Elector of Hanover.” The wheel of fortune had come full circle. He who in youth rode in the bodyguard of the Young Pretender, now was admitted to the chivalry of George Ill”.Professor W. I. C, Morris
To read some more about Robert Strange from Professor W. I. C. Morris: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/162674794.pdf
His memoirs are available at this link: https://electricscotland.com/history/other/memoirssirrober01.pdf
Directions: That completes our Eurowalk in Kirkwall. The next two stops would require transport in order to visit them. The Italian Chapel is situated 8 miles from Kirkwall and is definitely worth a visit. And the Scapa Flow Museum at Lyness on the Island of Hoy is worth a visit. There are ferries to the island and you can travel as a foot passenger or take your bike or car. These locations are described on the next two pages of our Eurowalk, by clicking “Next” below.
To read more about Orkney we found these links useful:
- Kirkwall Heritage App for Apple devices – https://apps.apple.com/gb/app/kirkwall-history-heritage/id1435074849