Notably blonde in her youth, Sarah Churchill was famous for washing her golden hair in honey water and was described by a besotted young female admirer as a beauty “with rays about her head like a sun”. It is possible that the young woman in...

This portrait of a young woman, her blonde hair worn loose, shares an affinity with the portraits of Sarah Churchill (née Jenyns), Duchess of Marlborough (1660-1744), who was, unquestionably, one of the most extraordinary women of the eighteenth century. Although painted slightly later than the portraits of Churchill, the portrait shows the sitter with her head tilted sensuously back and to the side, a pose first struck by the Duchess in her sittings for Sir Godfrey Kneller, whose oval bust-length portrait of the Duchess of Marlborough of 1691 (Althorp, Northamptonshire) was copied numerous times by different artists (including Zincke[1]). Notably blonde in her youth, Sarah Churchill was famous for washing her golden hair in honey water and was described by a besotted young female admirer as a beauty “with rays about her head like a sun”. It is possible that the young woman in this image was influenced by this famous beauty in the commissioning of her own portrait, drawing...

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This portrait of a young woman, her blonde hair worn loose, shares an affinity with the portraits of Sarah Churchill (née Jenyns), Duchess of Marlborough (1660-1744), who was, unquestionably, one of the most extraordinary women of the eighteenth century. Although painted slightly later than the portraits of Churchill, the portrait shows the sitter with her head tilted sensuously back and to the side, a pose first struck by the Duchess in her sittings for Sir Godfrey Kneller, whose oval bust-length portrait of the Duchess of Marlborough of 1691 (Althorp, Northamptonshire) was copied numerous times by different artists (including Zincke[1]). Notably blonde in her youth, Sarah Churchill was famous for washing her golden hair in honey water and was described by a besotted young female admirer as a beauty “with rays about her head like a sun”. It is possible that the young woman in this image was influenced by this famous beauty in the commissioning of her own portrait, drawing attention to her likeness to the Duchess. It may have been commissioned as a betrothal portrait, pearls symbolising purity (virginity).

Born into a Dresden family of goldsmiths, the artist Christian Friedrich Zincke had been invited to England in either 1704 or 1706 by Charles Boit, the leading enamellist working in Britain of the day. Following Boit’s flight from court in 1714 (following the spectacular failure of his project to make a commemorative enamel of the Battle of Blenheim) Zincke gained a virtual monopoly on work in enamel. By 1726, George Vertue could report that he ‘has had more persons of distinction daily sitting to him than any other painter living’.[2]

Due to deteriorating eyesight, Zincke’s career ended prematurely in the 1740s. By this date, he had established himself as one of the most prolific and successful portrait enamellists of the eighteenth century. His work is held in a number of major national collections, including the Ashmolean Museum, the Royal Collection and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

[1] The earliest dated portrait that he executed in England was a 1711 portrait of the Duchess. Now in the Royal Collection, RCIN 421962

[2] W. Hoare, ‘Zincke, Christian Frederick (1684?–1767)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [online edn.], 2004.

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500 Years of British Art