But portraits have always been more than just a record. They have been used to show the power, importance, virtue, beauty, wealth, taste, learning or other qualities of the sitter. Since the 1990s, artists have also used video to create vivid portraits. But portrait painting continues to flourish.
Of course, this varies from period to period and from culture to culture, but it was certainly the case in the European tradition, from which the genre of formalised portraiture emerged. Many of the most famous works of art before the 19th century, such as Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa or Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, were commissions. Many of the earliest portraits were "donor portraits", that is, portraits within a larger (usually religious) painting of the person who paid for it and his or her family. In the above example by Albrecht Altdorfer (c.
Women artists have been particularly prolific in the genres of portraiture and self-portraiture, probably because throughout most of history they were unable to paint nudes or in the public sphere. In the earlier painting, Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat (178), she presents herself as a professional and fashionable artist, brushes and palette in hand. She had been inspired by Peter Paul Ruben's painting Portrait of Susanna Lunden (1622-2 , and by evoking it through her clothing and background, she aligns herself with another great artist in history. Frida Kahlo is one of the most famous self-portraitists, who created over fifty paintings of herself during her lifetime, exploring different aspects of her inner life and psychology.
One of her most famous self-portraits, The Two Fridas (193), depicts two aspects of her persona. The Frida on the right wears a traditional Tehuana costume, while the Frida on the left wears a white Victorian-style dress. Some art historians believe that the painting is a representation of her dual heritage, and one possible interpretation is that her husband, Diego Rivera, loved the Tehuana Frida but rejected the European Frida (the painting was completed in the year of their divorce). Kahlo's own interpretation was that she was inspired by the memory of a childhood friend.
Who is the Englishman in Malevich's An Englishman in Moscow (191)? Today, a painted portrait is often considered a luxury, even more so than in previous centuries. They are often painted for special occasions, important people or simply as a work of art. Because of the cost involved, many people opt for photography rather than hiring a painter. For other artists, it may be more about the opportunity to play and experiment with new techniques.
When you are alone, you have all the time in the world and can work without deadlines. Others use self-portrait art to reshape their sense of identity or foster self-acceptance. They want to push themselves emotionally to see themselves in a new light. The portrait of the saints and their disciples was on a tombstone on the wall of the Imperial University as a moral code to educate students.
THE OFFICIAL PRESIDENTIAL PORTRAIT began with George Washington, who was painted in 1796 by Gilbert Stuart, one of the foremost American artists of his day. There is no such thing as a neutral portrait; each portraitist has made certain decisions about what to show and how to position his subject. He tried to befriend intellectuals by placing portraits on the wall of the Pingyan Pavilion as a sign of respect. Francis Picabia's portrait of Alfred Stieglitz Ici, C'est Ici Stieglitz ("Here is Stieglitz", 1915, Stieglitz Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art) shows only a broken bellows camera.
It also questioned what portraits really are, as well as inspiring artists of all media to approach their practice in a different way. The invention of the personal camera did much more than change the way subjects posed for portraits. At first, portraits were commissioned primarily by wealthy and powerful patrons, but over time it became increasingly common for middle-class people to commission them as well. Portrait painting of women in ancient China, from the Han Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty (206 BC - 191), developed under the great impact of Confucian patriarchal cosmology, although the subject matter and style varied according to the culture of each dynasty.
What is most striking about the recent return of classical portraiture is the realisation of how absent it has been from the art world for so many years, to the extent that Andy Warhol, one of those ostensibly responsible for the death of the form, helped found the New York Academy of Art in 1982 to save the kind of technical training in fine art (especially figure drawing) that then seemed in danger of extinction. Traditionally, portraits were commissioned by the sitters themselves, who were usually wealthy and of high rank. Later emperors, especially Jahangir and Shah Jahan, made great use of idealised miniature portraits of themselves as a form of propaganda, distributing them to significant allies. He also celebrates his outstanding scholarship on Ingres through the appropriation of Jean-Auguste-Domonique Ingres's portrait of the Comte de Pastoret (1791-1855).
This idea is expanded in the work of Amy Sherald, who was chosen by Michelle Obama to paint her official portrait.