In this ongoing series for Fine Art Today, we take a longer look at the history and features of a soon-to-be-available artwork of note. This week: Sir Edward John Poynter, “Zenobia Captive.”
One of the 19th century’s most accomplished neoclassical painters, Sir Edward John Poynter (1826–1919) established a lasting career re-creating some of history’s greatest myths, legends, and heroes in the academic tradition. In addition to his success as an artist, Poynter was extremely active in academia, serving as the Slade professor and later director of art at the South Kensington Museum. Poynter also had a prolific career with the Royal Academy: ARA 1869, RA 1876, PRA 1896–1918. He also served as director of the National Gallery from 1894 to 1906.
Heading to auction on December 16 at Christie’s is the beautifully exotic “Zenobia Captive,” which displays the 3rd-century queen of Palmyra (modern-day Syria). Christie’s reports, “Whilst she initially enjoyed the protection of Rome, her declaration of her son as Emperor, and herself as Empress, aggravated the true Emperor Aurelian to march against her. Zenobia was captured, and was led be-jewelled, but enchained, through the streets of Rome.”
Poynter shows the queen in a dazzling array of colorful jewels and in Eastern costume. Poynter, in fact, earned his first success as a painter showing Eastern subjects in 1867. Christie’s writes, “Between these set pieces came smaller works such as ‘Zenobia Captive,’ where Poynter evoked the ancient world rather than describing it with archaeological precision. Zenobia’s robe for instance was a studio prop of probably Indian origin, possibly supplied by his brother-in-law John Lockwood Kipling, principal of the Mayo School of Arts, Lahore. The headdress is markedly similar to pieces from productions of ‘Aida’ now found in the Museum of London. The snake band worn on the upper arm is comparable to one made for Alma-Tadema for inclusion in various paintings. Indeed for his depiction of ‘Helen of Troy’ (1881, Art Gallery of New South Wales), Poynter composed a necklace of his own design, which was then made by Carlo Giuliano.”
Poynter’s “Zenobia Captive” will feature in Christie’s December 16 “Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite & British Impressionist Art” sale. Auction estimates are between $377,500 and $528,500.
To view the full catalogue, visit Christie’s.
This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


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