Zenobia Captive
Zenobia was the second wife of Odaenathus, king of Palmyra. Under Odaenathus, and subsequently Zenobia, Palmyra, which was a wealthy oasis between Syria and Babylon, gained a brief independence from the Eastern Roman Empire to which it had been annexed in about 17 A.D. In the middle years of the Third Century A.D. Zenobia gained power from her husband whose death she may have been responsible for. She proceeded to make enormous territorial gains at the expense of the Romans; at one point she had conquered Syria, Egypt and much of Asia Minor. In 271 Zenobia declared her son the Emperor Augustus. This was too much for the true Emperor Aurelian who consequently marched against her. Zenobia’s previous conquests fell easily to the Romans and her army suffered defeats at Antioch and Emesa. Finally Palmyra was invaded and Zenobia and her sons captured. She was taken to Rome to be exhibited at Aurelian’s triumphal celebrations, following which she was granted a pension and a villa by the Romans. In contemporary accounts Zenobia was praised for her beauty and dignified acceptance of defeat; more critical historians have judged her as ruthless and unprincipalled in her personal ambition.

Poynter has depicted Zenobia in the former role, as a semi-oriental warrior-princess defeated by the might of the Roman Empire but worthy of the Roman’s respect as an adversary. Poynter delights in confirming her as a romantic heroine. As a choice of subjects she reflects Poynter’s strong interest in the history of the Eastern Roman world and its subject states.
In an ionic pilastered frame designed by Poynter
The Royal Academy, 1878, no. 43

The Athenaeum, 4th May 1978, pp. 575-6:
Mr.Poynter, from whom one naturally expects a great deal, exhibits but two head studies, one a three-quarter length life-size portrait of Mrs.Langtry and the other an imaginative and very noble head of Zenobia Captive (43). With greater scope for imagination in his study of Zenobia, the artist pictures this remarkable woman when taken prisoner by Aurelian. The handsome, swarthy face of the princess is clouded with an expression of mingles pride and distress, and it is probable that she even now prepared to deck the triumph of her conqueror's entry into Rome - for loaded with jewels, upon her head a splendid diadem (in which may be noted the Roman Eagle), rich in diamonds and precious stones, we readily picture the unfortunate queen when borne down with her golden chains she was led captive through the imperial city. Sumptuous study as this beautiful work undoubtedly is, we are half disposed to regret that Mr.Poynter's onerous duties at Kensington interfere with the production of works which, like Atalanta's Race, not only reflect credit on the artist's powers, redound to the honour of the British School of Art.
The Times, 4th May 1878, p.12;
The Art Journal, 1878, p.146;
E.J. POYNTER, R.A., has tried his hand on an Eastern subject; but whether his sitter was as true a daughter of the Orient as Mr.Prinsep's [Martaba] we cannot say. "Zenobia Captive", with her turquoise and gold crown, and her hand playing listlessly with her massive necklets, revealing a bare arm of great symmetry, is at all events very grand and very beautiful, and Mr.Poynter, of whose lack of spontaneity we complained in Mrs.Langtry's portrait, is here most exquisite in every detail.
Height 71.20 cm (28.03 inches)
Width 53.40 cm (21.02 inches)
Stock Code
Oil on canvas
Signed with monogram and dated 1878 lower right
Peter Nahum

Peter Nahum
5 Bloomsbury Square

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