History of Portraiture Essay example

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History of Portraiture

Portraiture is a visual representation of an individual people,
distinguished by references to the subject's character, social
position, wealth, or profession.

Portraitists often strive for exact visual likenesses. However,
although the viewer's correct identification of the sitter is of
primary importance, exact replication is not always the goal. Artists
may intentionally alter the appearance of their subjects by
embellishing or refining their images to emphasize or minimize
particular qualities (physical, psychological, or social) of the
subject. Viewers sometimes praise most highly those images that seem
to look very little like the sitter because these images are
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The Romans were expert in rendering individuals. Some scholars have
argued that it was the practice of making and keeping death masks of
ancestors (worn by survivors in the funeral processions) that accounts
for the enormous skill with which Roman portraitists captured the
individuality of their subjects. Many portrait busts survive,
including images of Roman rulers as well as poignant representations
of aged citizens. Especially noteworthy are the mummy portraits from
the region of Al Fayyūm in Egypt. Painted during the 2nd century ad,
these portraits depict individuals who stare wide-eyed at the viewer.
These slightly simplified representations of staring subjects
anticipate the severity and frontal orientation of early medieval
portraits.

The Renaissance marked a turning point in the history of portraiture.
Partly out of interest in the natural world and partly out of interest
in the classical cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, portraits—both
painted and sculpted—were given an important role in Renaissance
society.

In the Netherlands, Jan van Eyck was a leading portraitist; The
Arnolfini Marriage (1434, National Gallery, London) is a detailed
full-length portrait of a couple. Leading German portrait artists
include Hans Holbein the Younger and Albrecht Dürer.

During the baroque and rococo periods (17th century and 18th century,
respectively),…