Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra

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Harriet Hosmer
American, 1830-1908

Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, modeled c. 1859; carved after 1859

Marble
86.4 x 57.2 x 31.8 cm (34 x 22 1/2 x 12 1/2 in.)
Inscribed on the back: "HARRIET HOSMER / FECIT ROMAE"
Restricted gift of the Antiquarian Society, 1993.260

Harriet Hosmer was the leader of a small group of women who studied sculpture in Rome in the 1850s. Her work frequently addresses the theme of strong, independent women who are ultimately punished for their seemingly inappropriate power and ambition. This portrait depicts Zenobia, the queen of Palmyra, who ruled the Syrian city after her husband, Odenathus, died in A.D. 267. Zenobia conquered Egypt and much of Asia Minor until her defeat by the Roman emperor Aurelian in A.D. 272. Portraying the queen at the moment of her capture, Hosmer emphasized Zenobia’s dignity, remarking, “I have tried to make her too proud to exhibit passion or emotion of any kind; not subdued, though a prisoner; but calm, grand, and strong within herself.”

— Permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Publication History

“Harriet Hosmer,” Cosmopolitan Art Journal 3 (Dec. 1859), pp. 214–17.

“Art: Harriet Hosmer’s Zenobia,” Atlantic Monthly 15 (Feb.1865), pp. 248–50.

Judith A. Barter et al., American Arts at The Art Institute of Chicago: From Colonial Times to World War I (Art Institute of Chicago, 1998), pp. 174–77, no. 78.

Sarah E. Kelly, “Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra,” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 30, 1 (2004), pp. 8-9 (ill.).

Ownership History

Conner-Rosenkranz, New York, by 1993; sold to The Art Institute of Chicago, 1993.