There are few paintings which attract as much interest and admiration as the portrait of Lady Elizabeth Murray and Dido Elizabeth Murray, by Johann Zoffany, which hangs in the Ambassador's Room here at Scone Palace.
Dido Elizabeth Belle was a girl born into slavery of mixed race, whose mother was a black African woman, Maria Belle and whose father was Rear Admiral Sir John Lindsay, nephew of the 1st Earl of Mansfield.
When Dido's mother died, making her an orphan at the age of six, her father came to claim her before returning to his family home at Kenwood House in Hampstead. There he beseeched his uncle, the Earl of Mansfield, to take the child into his care and to raise her alongside her cousin, Elizabeth, in a manner befitting her aristocratic blood line.
Up until the 1990s, the painting was simply known as The Lady Elizabeth Murray and the identity of Belle was unknown. The painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle and Elizabeth Murray is fascinating and has many unanswered questions attached it, most in regards to the pose which the girls are in. Critics have long been asking why is Dido pointing to her face? And why does she appear to be rushing past Elizabeth? Whatever the answers the fact remains the portrait, and high status of Dido Belle remain truly unique for the time and place.
Mansfield before his death as Lord Chief Justice took significant steps to abolishing slavery and in 1772 found that slavery had no precedent in common law within Britain. This was seen as the beginning of the end of official slavery in Britain. Many believe Belle would have influenced his views on the matter in some way or another.
The story of Dido Belle's life is brought to life by British director Amma Asante and producer Damian Jones in the film 'Belle', which was released in the UK on 13th June 2014. The principal cast is Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Oscar nominees Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson, Sam Reid, and Sarah Gadon. Penelope Wilton, Matthew Goodie, Miranda Richardson, Tom Felton and James Norton all have supporting roles.
To coincide with the Dido Belle movie, we are staging our own exhibition 'Dido Belle - her story', telling not only of her extraordinary life but also her life in the context of legal history. This short promotional clip for the forthcoming film Belle features an interview with The Hon William Murray, Master of Stormont, who is the current Earl of Mansfield's grandson, telling of the family connection to Dido.
The iconic painting of Dido and Elizabeth now hangs proudly on our walls, and we would love for you to come and enjoy the historical painting with us.