Angelica Kauffmann was among the most highly reguarded of the court painters of her time, serving many of the Russian, Polish and German aristocracy from her studio in Rome. This painting of the Polsih Prince Stanislaus Poniatowski was painted in in January of 1786 — as a study from the model, without hands, for a full-length portrait, which is stated to have been completed in April 1788.
Stanislaus is in uniform, wearing the Order of Saint Stanislaus (created in 1765 by his uncle, King Stanislaus Augustus, in honour of Poland’s patron saint). The Prince’s chest also sports the Order of the White Eagle, a prestigious Polish decoration and the highest grade of recognition. Though only sketched out by the artist, the cross of the first order and the star of the second (a white Maltese cross surrounded by gold rays) are both clearly legible. Finally, the white cockade, symbol of royalty, adorns the tricorn hat he holds under his arm.
The year is 1786, and at thirty-two, Stanislaus could still hope to inherit the crown from his uncle, but the King was forced to abdicate in 1795. The Prince spent most of the rest of his life in Italy, starting in Rome, where he sojourned in 1785, and where he lived uninterruptedly from 1792 to 1820. His lived his last years in Florence, where in 1830 he married his long-time mistress Cassandra Luci (1774-1863). An enlightened spirit and brilliant Latinist, he took an active role in the artistic and cultural life of the Eternal City. In 1792 he was made an honorary academician of the Accademia di San Luca, and between 1811 and 1813 he had as his secretary the young Roman poet Giuseppe Gioachino Belli (1791-1863).