Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Plaque - Maria Gunning, Countess of Coventry

Maria Gunning, Countess of Coventry

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Birmingham (probably, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1752 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Brooks, John (engraver (inciser))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    White enamel on copper, transfer-printed in black, with overpainting in black, in gilt metal frame

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Lady Charlotte Schreiber

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 53a, case 1

Object Type
Small portable portraits had been available in Britain for more than 200 years, but the method of transferring an engraved likeness onto enamelled copper was only developed around 1750. This plaque shows how successful the technique quickly became. Though an early example, with some black overpainting to hide slight printing deficiencies, the overall effect is pleasing and meant that transfer-printed portrait plaques could be made much more economically than hand-painted ones

This plaque was probably made in Birmingham, the main centre of metalworking in 18th-century England. Throughout the second half of the century, Birmingham was also the heart of a region famed for the manufacture of enamels. John Brooks, who claimed to have invented the technique of transfer-printing on enamel, and whose work this probably is, lived in Birmingham in the early 1750s. After moving to London as partner in the short-lived Battersea factory, Brooks produced smaller, more delicate versions of the Gunning Sisters plaques.

The Irish beauties Maria Gunning (1733-1760) and her sister Elizabeth arrived in England without fortune or title in 1750. The 'gorgeous Gunnings' took London by storm and were constantly followed by mobs of admirers. By the spring of 1752, both had married aristocrats. Maria married George William, 6th Earl of Coventry. Though naïve and silly, she was considered prettier than her sister. It is probably she who is depicted on another transfer-printed enamel as the personification of Ireland Being Awarded the Prize of Beauty. But Maria's looks were destroyed by a combination of tuberculosis and slow poisoning. The white lead (possibly also arsenic) in the face powder she used to whiten her skin caused her death at only 27. Around 10,000 people are said to have come to view her coffin.

Place of Origin

Birmingham (probably, made)


ca. 1752 (made)


Brooks, John (engraver (inciser))

Materials and Techniques

White enamel on copper, transfer-printed in black, with overpainting in black, in gilt metal frame


Height: 13.97 cm, Width: 10.95 cm

Object history note

Decoration probably engraved by John Brooks (active about 1730-1756) after pastel portraits of 1751 by Francis Cotes (born in London, 1726, died there in 1770)
Probably made in Birmingham

Labels and date

British Galleries:

Probably 1752

Transfer-printing was probably developed in Birmingham in about 1751. It was first used to decorate enamelled plaques like these. [27/03/2003]


Ceramics; British Galleries


Ceramics Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.