Sir Edward John Poynter Bt PRA RWS (1839-1919)
Signed with monogram and dated 1878
Oil on canvas
28 x 21 inches.
Exhibited: The Royal Academy, 1878, no. 43
Poynter designed the ionic pilastered frame.
Commentary by Christopher Newall
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 her 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 Romans' respect as an adversary. Poynter delights in confirming her as a romantic heroine. As a choice of subject she reflects Poynter's strong interest in the history of the Eastern Roman world and its subject states.
Newall, Christopher. A Celebration of British and European Painting of the 19th and 20th Centuries. London: Peter Nahum, nd [1999?]. Pp. 28-30.
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Last modified 1 August 2001