Loosely speaking, portraiture refers to any representation of a single human figure. More strictly defined in the Western tradition, portraiture has sought to capture the likeness, character, and/or status of a specific individual. This concept has its roots in Western antiquity, when Roman emperors like Augustus sent idealized portrait statues to the far reaches of his empire to reinforce his authority. The renewed interest in humanism during the Renaissance brought a flourish in portraiture, from the highly detailed likenesses of Henry VIII by Hans Holbein to the frank courtiers painted by Sofonisba Anguissola. During the Dutch Golden Age, the growing merchant class used portraits to display their economic success, as in the work of Frans Hals or Rembrandt van Rijn. The invention of photography in the mid-1800s made portraits affordable to a wider segment of the population, while the advent of abstraction pushed painters to consider how avant-garde styles like Cubism could tackle portraiture, such as Picasso's fragmented depictions of Dora Maar. Contemporary artists continue to test the definition of portraiture; Cajsa van Zeipel's all-white, life-sized sculptures apply a traditional portrait format to anonymous stock characters, while Wanda Bernardino obscures the faces of portraits, confounding the ability of the work to convey likeness.

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