Queen Charlotte in detail by Zoffany

Queen Charlotte by Zoffany, 1765

Don’t you love it when you find a large version of a wonderful historical artwork that you’ve only ever seen in very small versions?

Like this fantastic Zoffany portrait of Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz:

It’s full of the most glorious details.

There are her sons, with George IV in Roman inspired armour:

Queen Charlotte by Zoffany, 1765

Queen Charlotte with her Two Eldest Sons, Johan Zoffany, 1765

Prinny looks a wee bit petulant, possibly because the dog clearly loves mummy more than him!   (and honestly, who wouldn’t be jealous over that dog’s look of adoration?  I’m not even a dog person and I want to hug it!)

The whole outfit is fantastic, but oh, his boots!  Aren’t they just the most adorable things ever?

If he isn’t mad about the dog, perhaps Prinny is glaring at his little brother, wishing he were wearing Prince Frederick’s Orientalist attire.  It is rather fabulous isn’t it?  And the turban is doing a cunning job of doubling as a pudding cap – the padded caps worn by small children in the 18th century to keep them from injury when they toppled over.

Queen Charlotte by Zoffany, 1765

Queen Charlotte with her Two Eldest Sons, Johan Zoffany, 1765

It’s not quite as exciting/unusual as royal children’s fancy dress, but the portrait also provides lovely details of Charlotte’s dress: the glimpse of her shoe, the punched hem of her skirt ruffle, the triple layers of lace engageants, and finely roll-pleated trim.

Charlotte is sitting by her dressing table, giving us a wonderful look at a mid-18th century dressing table.  We can see each pot and pouf.  The dressing table is draped in a literal fortune in handmade lace, emphasising Charlotte’s wealth and status.  Even more fabulously, the mirror reflects Charlotte’s profile, giving us a simultaneous front and side view of her hair – and her fantastically over-the-top earrings.

Queen Charlotte by Zoffany, 1765

Queen Charlotte with her Two Eldest Sons, Johan Zoffany, 1765

There are more wonderful details hidden in the painting. Glimpses of the other artwork in the room, showing scenes from Greek & Roman mythology.  And two Chinese figures, which frame Charlotte, reinforcing the themes of worldly knowledge and wealth.

Queen Charlotte by Zoffany, 1765

Queen Charlotte with her Two Eldest Sons, Johan Zoffany, 1765 (detail)

My absolute favourite detail is this one though:

Queen Charlotte by Zoffany, 1765

Queen Charlotte with her Two Eldest Sons, Johan Zoffany, 1765 (detail)

A tiny glimpse of another portrait in the hall off the main room.  I wonder who it is?


  1. Christine says

    Thanks for this lovely post. The portrait in the hall looks like a mirror to me. Who does it reflect?

  2. Bruce bridges says

    Why is there no mention of Charlotte’s African ancestry?

  3. Sylvia Clayton says

    She, Queen Charlotte was a Black woman. She had 15 children. She is the grandmother of Queen Victoria. An (amateur) botanist she grew her own vegetables and was the passion behind Kew Gardens. The young Princess is named after her.

    • Possibly. Historians are still very divided on that first fact, and until a significant number of her descendants agree to a public DNA test, we’ll never know for sure 🙂

  4. I think it’s a mirror, not a portrait, probably the little boys’ governess or other lady-in-waiting. How cool the painter painted her on, too 🙂 Lovely post, more of this kind, please!

  5. Tracy W says

    This is a lovely post and a wonderful picture, and my poor little brain’s prime take away is to remind me that some day, I really should finish the trim on the pink robe a la francaise I made but didn’t have time to finish trimming before the event I made it for. Poor thing has been languishing in a closet. Does anyone else do this? See a painting or a movie and think “darn it, I really need to finish (item)…”

  6. Lennor says

    She might be very very pale with blond hair, but the painting clearly shows very kinky crinkly hair.

    • Take a good look at half the mid 18th c portraits out there, and you’ll see the exact same hair – creating kinks was how you got those styles to stay in. Additionally, Zoffany was not an artist who was particularly known for his accurate portraits. It’s likely another woman sat for all parts of the painting except the face – and that is stylised to be as ‘attractive’ per the period mores as possible.

      Personally, I think it’s a fascinating idea, but since the potentially African ancestress was 600 years and 15 generations before Charlotte, and the most respected historians think she (Madragana) wasn’t African at all, it’s extremely unlikely that that genetic influence would have had any significant impact on Charlotte’s looks. Most importantly, since we can’t conclusively prove it without DNA, stating it as fact is historically irresponsible.

      • Tsu Dho Nimh says

        And what was not “frizzled” might have been someone else’s hair, or even sheep’s wool.

  7. Belinda Stafford says

    I am in love with your reading of this painting. I don’t think I would ever have spotted the half-portrait in the background.

    May I ask a silly question, please? How does one sit down in a gown supported by hoops or a crinoline? With the crinoline I have visions of the front of the skirt rising to cover the blushing lady’s face, or sticking up behind like a flying saucer. Hoops obviously require a wide chair, perhaps this is when settees began?
    Your historical knowledge is vast, I hope this is a simple silly question with a quick answer.

    \many thanks, Belinda

    • Not at all a silly question! Pocket hoops are easy to sit in: they collapse vertically, so you just need enough space side to side, and at a pinch they can fold up towards your body too. 18th c hoops vary in construction, and there are some examples with both horizontal and vertical support, so they can’t collapse: in that case you’re stuck with perching on a wide chair. Those types were for the most formal events, where you’d be doing very little sitting in any case!

      To sit in a mid-19th c crinoline, or any other sort of round/oval hoops that collapse vertically, you stand in front of your chair, slide your hands around the sides of the hoops, until they are just a little bit behind you, and then gently lift the hoops as you move backwards and sit, so all the hoop behind you ends up collapsed at the small of your back, and you aren’t sitting on any of it, and your front hoops angle down and keep you all modest and tidy. 🙂

  8. Tamar says

    Is it possible to make a reasonable guess about the social standing of the lady reflected in the pier glass from the white fabric around her neck? (For which I do not know the correct term!) Or is there not enough of her shown to say anything beyond that there is a lady in the next room?

  9. Wow, what fantastic details! I love all the little touches that signal her education and knowledge, like the Chinese figures and the mythological scenes.

    The trimming on her stomacher looks like chromosomes to me, though of course that can’t have been intentional.

  10. Am I the only person reminded of button-tufted furniture upholstery when they look at Charlotte’s coiffure?

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