Julia Potocka, née Lubomirska, was a Polish noblewoman from an influential family dating back to the late 14th century. She was the wife of Jan Potocki (1761-1815), a celebrated ethnologist, adventurer and author. Her husband’s constant travels and preoccupation with his books put a strain on their marriage and drove Julia into the arms of the national cavalry brigadier Eustachy Sanguszko, an affair that was notorious amongst their circle.
Famous in her own right, Julia Potocka was regarded as one of the most beautiful women of her age, so much so that she became known as ‘Giulietta la bella’. It is, therefore, not surprising that Lampi painted two further versions of this portrait (Warsaw, National Museum and Lancut, Muzeum-Zamek); the present one is the only one, though, which is signed. The vitality of the likeness is due, in part, to Lampi’s practice of painting the face from life. The sitter captures the viewer's gaze with eyes at once sultry and sorrowful, with a slight smile playing around her lips. A strikingly similar pose and attire can be seen in Lampi’s portrait of the Baroness J.F. Nikolaj, now in the Belvedere, Vienna. Following a successful stint as the leading portrait painter at the court of Vienna under Maria Theresa of Austria, Lampi had been invited to Warsaw by the King of Poland, and stayed there from 1788 until 1791, when he was summoned to Russia by Catherine the Great. The present painting will have been executed in circa 1789, when he also portrayed her husband Jan Potocki (now Lancut, Muzeum-Zamek).