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The Murder of Archbishop Sharpe

Painting by John Opie (1761-1807)

This painting is not currently on display.

John Opie was a prolific and successful Cornish artist, elected to the Royal Academy in 1788 and becoming its Professor of Painting in 1805. The central figure in the painting, James Sharp, was made Archbishop of St Andrews and Chancellor of the University of St Andrews in 1661. As University Chancellor, until 1679, he was responsible for many important developments at the University, including the founding of two Regius Professorships. The painting depicts his assassination by a group of Presbyterian Fife Lairds in 1679, an event of key importance in the turbulent history of conflict between church and government in Scotland in the 17th century. Sharp was a former Presbyterian minister whose appointment as Archbishop was seen as a betrayal by most Presbyterians.

The painting has an interesting historical provenance, having been commissioned by Robert Bowyer in 1797 to provide an engraving for an illustrated edition of David Hume’s 'History of England'. It was initially exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1797 and again in an exhibition entitled 'The Painted Word: British History Painting: 1750-1830', in the Heim Gallery, London, in 1991. We believe this is the first historical painting by Opie to be held by a Scottish museum. It was acquired by the University in 2007, with financial assistance from a private donor, The Art Fund, the National Fund for Acquisitions (administered with Government funds by the National Museums of Scotland), the Binks Trust and the University of St Andrews.