Portrait

About

"I would wish my portraits to be of the people, not like them. Not having a look of the sitter, being them.” —Lucian Freud

Though portraits are generally defined as representations of real individuals intended to capture a likeness, as Freud aptly expresses in the quote above, there is more to a portrait than an exact replication of the subject’s facial features. One of the oldest traditions in art, portraiture has served a variety of purposes, from recording appearances and acting as commemorative gifts, to asserting power. Early portraits preserved likenesses of men after their death, as in Egyptian sarcophagi, death masks, and other funerary objects. In the Greek and Roman periods, statues and coins featured faithful depictions of rulers and distinguished individuals—a convention that was revived during the Renaissance and after by artists like Hans Holbein the Younger, Rembrandt van Rijn and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. These artists emphasized the subject’s pose, dress, and setting to convey a sense of individual identity or even inner psychology. More than any work, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa proved that beyond physical likeness, it is often the portraits' intangible essence—possibly the sitter’s thoughts or the stories around the work—that captivates viewers for hundreds of years after their creation.