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Mini portrait of Zofia Potoska

Painting, Alexander Kucharsky (Polish, 1741-1819), oil on porcelain, c. late 18th century or early 19th century, gift of L. B. Audigier, 1934.1.86.

Zofia Potoska was quite literally the belle of the ball in late 18th century Europe. Her exotic origin, passionate relationships, and dramatic life made her irresistible to the European nobility. Zofia Potoska was born in the Ottoman Empire to a poor cattle herder. When her father died, her mother was forced to sell her daughters to a Polish Ambassador who was known for securing concubines for the Polish king. Zofia was purchased and prostituted but with the whispering of her having royal blood and great beauty she began to catch the eye of nobles. She was wed to the Polish minor noble Józef Witt in 1779. Zofia took to noble life like a fish to water. She traveled all over Europe with Witt and impressed and ensnared everyone including most notably the Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, the Emperor of the Austrian Empire, Joseph II, and the King of Prussia, Fredrick the II. Zofia eventually divorced Witt and entertained a string of noble marriages and romances and possibly a brief time in the Russian spy network. Mini portraits like this were usually used to introduce important people to one another before physically meeting. They could also be used by loved ones wishing to not be parted. An unprecedented number of mini portraits of Zofia Potoska exist showing her wide spread adoration and intrigue throughout the noble class.

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