Baroque and Rococo


Baroque and Rococo Art Map


The Art of the Portrait


Masterpieces of European Portrait-Painting



  Exploration: The Art of the Portrait - European Portrait 1420-1670
  The Great Age of the Portrait
  Origins of the Portrait
  Jan van Eyck: Tymotheos
  Jan van Eyck: The Marriage of Giovanni Arnolfini
  Jan van Eyck: The Virgin of Chancellor Rolin
  Rogier van der Weyden: Portrait of a Lady
  Jean Fouquet: Etienne Chevalier Presented by St Stephen
  Hans Memling: Man with a Roman Coin
  Antonello da Messina: Portrit of a Man, known as "Il Condottiere"
  Early Portrait of a Ruler
  Piero della Francesca: Federigo da Montefeltro and his Wife Battista Sforza
  Portraits of Renaissance Women
  Pisanello: Young Lady of the Este Family
  Leonardo da Vinci: The Lady with the Ermine (Cecilia Gallerani)
  Leonardo da Vinci: Mona Lisa (La Gioconda)
  Giorgione: Portrait of a Young Lady ("Laura")
  Piero di Cosimo: Simonetta Vespucci
  Agnolo Bronzino: Laura Battiferri
  The Psychological Portrait
  Lorenzo Lotto: Young Man before a White Curtain
  Lorenzo Lotto: Man with a Golden Paw
  Moretto da Brescia: Portrait of a Young Man
  Portraits and Caricatures
  Quentin Massys: Old Woman (The Queen of Tunis)
  Portraits of Renaissance Humanists
  Luca Signorelli: Portrait of a Middle-Aged Man
  Agnolo Bronzino: Portrait of Ugolino Martelli
  Raphael: Baldassare Castiglione
  Lucas Cranach the Elder: Dr. Cuspinian and his Wife
  Hans Holbein the Younger: Erasmus of Rotterdam
  Mythologising Portraits
  Agnolo Bronzino: Andrea Doria as Neptune
  Nicoletto da Modena (?): Francis I of France as an Antique God
  Portraits of Popes and Cardinals
  Raphael: Pope Leo X with Cardinals Giuliano de' Medici and Luigi de Rossi
  Titian: Pope Paul III, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese and Duke Ottavio Farnese
  Portraits of Artists and Collectors
  Lorenzo Lotto: Andrea Odoni
  Titian: Jacopo de Strada
  Artists' Self-Portraits
  Albrecht Durer: Self-Portrait with a Fur Coat
  Nicolas Poussin: Self-Portrait
  Rembrandt: Self-Portraits
  Portrait of a Friend
  Hans Holbein the Younger: The French Ambassadors to the English Court
  "Teste Composte"
  Giuseppe Arcimboldo: Vertumnus
  Portraits of 16th and 17th-century Rulers
  Titian: Emperor Charles V after the Battle of Miihlberg
  Anthony van Dyck: Charles I of England, Hunting
  Hyacinthe Rigaud: Louis XIV of France
  Philippe de Champaigne: Triple Portrait of Cardinal Richelieu
  Marriage and Family Portraits
  Peter Paul Rubens: Rubens and Isabella Brant under the Honeysuckle
  Jacob Jordaens: The Artist and his Family
  Portraits of Children
  Giovanni Francesco Caroto: Boy with a Drawing
  Jan van Scorel: The Schoolboy
  Diego Velazquez: The Infante Philip Prosper
  Dutch Civic Guard Portraits
  Rembrandt: "The Night Watch"
  Portraits of Regents
  Frans Hals: The Governors of the Old Men's Almshouse at Haarlem
  Anatomy Lessons
  Rembrandt: The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp
  Portraits of Fools and Dwarfs
  Diego Velazquez: The Dwarf "El Primo"




Agnolo Bronzino
Bia de' Medici


The Great Age of the Portrait


Antoine-Francois Callet
Louis XVI


The portraits presented in this book are selected exclusively from works executed between the late Middle Ages and the seventeenth century. There are good reasons for limiting study to this period, for it was then that portraiture came into its own. It was this era that witnessed the revival and genuine renewal of the individualised, "au vif" depiction of privileged or highly esteemed persons, a genre largely neglected since Classical antiquity. From the fifteenth century onwards, not only princes, the high clergy and noblemen, but members of other social groups - merchants, craftsmen, bankers, humanist scholars and artists - sat for their portraits, keeping themselves, quite literally, in the public eye.
The period also saw the development of various portrait types, sub-genres which determined the forms taken by portraits in the following centuries. Examples of these are the "full-length portrait", usually reserved for ruling princes or members of the nobility (Titian Emperor Charles V), the "three-quarter-length portrait" (Giovanni Battista Moroni Don Gabriel de la Cueva) and the many different kinds of "head-and-shoulder portrait", the most frequently occurring portrait type, with its various angles at which the sitter posed in relation to the spectator. Typical poses included the "profile view" (Pisanello Young Lady of the Este Family) with its dignified, hieratic air reminiscent of Classical antiquity, the "three-quarters view", the "half-length" and the frontal, or "full-face view", with its often highly suggestive form of "direct address".


Emperor Charles V

Full-length portraits were usually reserved for rulers and the nobility.
Titian's portrait of Charles V in a silver brocade coat, based on an earlier model by the
Austrain painter Jacob Seisenegger, is an excellent example.


Giovanni Battista Moroni
Don Gabriel de la Cueva



Young Lady of the Este Family


Besides the "individual portrait", whose function was the depiction of public figures who wished to demonstrate their social standing as autonomous individuals (see Hans Holbein's Georg Gisze), the "group portrait" continued during this period to be cultivated as an artistic institution.1 Such portraits served as status symbols for corporate bodies such as guilds or other professional societies and trade associations, while at the same time defining the various roles and hierarchies within the groups themselves. Similarly, portraits of married couples and family portraits allowed the basic social units of the early modern state to project an image of themselves that was, in the main, consistent with the mores and conventions of their age.
It remains a source of continual astonishment that so infinitely complex a genre should develop in so brief a space of time, indeed within only a few decades of the fifteenth century, especially in view of the constraints imposed upon it by the individual requirements of its patrons. Its complexity is revealed in its rhetorical gesture, in its vast vocabulary of physical postures and facial expressions and in the range of emblems and other attributes characterising the sitters and symbolising their spheres of influence.


Hans Holbein the Younger
Georg Gisze

This merchant from Danzig was visiting London when his portrait was painted.
The Latin inscription on the paper on his office wall certifies the portrait's accuracy:
"Distich on the likeness of Georg Gisze. What you see is Georg's countenance and counterfeit;
so bold is his eye, and thus his checks are formed.
In his thirtv-fourth vear of Our Lord 1532."



While the earliest works of this period, by early Netherlandish portraitists (see, for example, Jan van Eyck "Leal Souvenir" -"Tymotheos"), appear to have concentrated exclusively, and with almost microscopic attention to detail, on the rendering of external reality, rejecting psychology altogether, the portraits painted towards the end of the fifteenth century focused increasingly on inward states, on the evocation of atmosphere and the portrayal of mental and moral attitudes. The tendency to psychologise went so far that it eventually provoked a retreat from the open expression of thoughts or feelings. The sitter no longer revealed himself as an open book but turned to a mysterious, inward world from which the spectator was more or less excluded.
There are cultural and historical correlations between the portraits executed in the late Middle Ages and early modern era and the idea of human dignity so emphatically championed by Renaissance philosophy. In his tract "De dignitate hominis", for example, Pico della Mirandola's creator-god, described as a "demiurge" (a skilled worker), has this to say of human destiny: "O Adam, we have not given you a certain abode, nor decided on any one particular face for you, nor have we provided you with any particular single ability, for you shall choose whatever dwelling-place pleases you, whatever features you consider becoming, whatever abilities you desire. All other beings are limited by natural laws that we have established. But no boundary shall impede your progress. You shall decide, even over Nature herself, according to your own free will, for in your hand have I laid your fate."


Jan van Eyck
"Leal Souvenir" ("Tymotheos")


Solemn diction cannot conceal a belief expressed in this passage in the autonomy of the individual. This notion lent metaphysical significance to the self-regard of a bourgeoisie whose confidence was already heightened by technical and economic progress, as well as by new opportunities accompanying geographical expansion and social mobility. But in providing an appropriately symbolic form for this view of the world, the portrait fulfilled a function that 'was appreciated by other ruling strata in society as well, especially by those with absolute power.

Anthonis Mor
Two Canons

The most respected non-aristocratic groups in societv were the clergy, scholars and merchants.
They paid considerable attention to their public image.
Here is an example of the bust portrait usually commissioned by these groups.


Even when the bourgeoisie had become more solidly established, images of individuality evolved during the "heroic era" of portraiture continued to dominate the genre and to guide its exponents. Against the background of changed historical circumstances, however, the use of the portrait to symbolise rank and power inevitably led to derivative or anachronistic forms and to a dubious kind of pathos (as in the portraits of Franz von Lenbach during the second half of the nineteenth century). Still officially cultivated in the nineteenth century, portrait-painting was "certainly not on its death-bed, but (...) far more rarely practised than it used to be", as Jakob Burckhardt put it in 1885. The growth of photography, a medium capable of faster, easier and more faithful reproduction, seemed to confirm the obsolete nature of the painted portrait with its time-consuming sittings and laborious sketches. Furthermore, the new technique was considerably cheaper.
Only art movements which opposed the academies of the late nineteenth century - the various Realist, Impressionist and Naturalist secessions -achieved innovations that broke with the self-aggrandizing manner, as it now appeared, of an increasingly "nouveau riche" clientele. The few expressive portraits of the twentieth century have come from artists associated with openly figurative movements, or from those who have viewed the critique of society as an integral part of their work. For obvious reasons, the non-figurative avant-garde radically rejected portraiture. It is therefore hardly surprising that an artist as well-disposed to abstraction as Don Judd, one of the most prominent Minimal artists, should declare: "Unfortunately, art tends to become a likeness, but that's not really what it is."


Portrait - Counterfeit - Likeness


Giovanni Bellini
Leonardo Loredan, Doge of Venice

Bellini's portrait of the Venetian Doge, Leonardo Loredan (1438-1521)
is reminiscent of bust portraits by 15th-century Florentine sculptors
whose style had developed from the medieval bust reliquary.
Loredan was doge from 1501-1521.
As military commander-in-chief he led Venice through a period of crisis
when the town was besieged by the "League of Cambrai".


Disregarding Judd's implied value judgement, it may be noted that his use of language, possibly unintentionally, echoes seventeenth-century usage, in which the terms "portrait" and "likeness" were understood to mean "pictorial imitation" of any kind, thus equating them with the concept of representation in general. The same is true of the older synonym "counterfeit" (Lat. "contrafacere" = to imitate). In a book of patterns and sketches, appropriately enough called his "Livre de portraiture", Villard de Honnecourt (13th century) used the term "counterfeit" not only to denote representations of human beings, but also for drawings of animals. Only much later did the use of these terms become more restricted, indeed long after the portrait had established itself as a genre and collections of portraits of "famous men", or "viri illustres" (like that by Paolo Giovio, 1521) had become highly sought-after collector's items.
While the French engraver Abraham Bosse (1602-1676) still defined "portraiture" as "a general word for painting and engraving", equating "portrait" in meaning with "tableau" (a picture or painting), it was Nicolas Poussin's friend Andre Felibien who first suggested that the term "portrait" be reserved exclusively for likenesses of (certain) human beings. Felibien further suggested the use of the term "figure" for the pictorial rendering of animals, while the term "representation" was to be used for the depiction of vegetable or inorganic forms, for plants, or, at the very bottom of the pyramid of being, stones.
The tendency, inherent in this "modern", anthropocentric terminology, to draw clear distinctions between humans and other living beings possibly marks the end of a typically feudal "symbiosis" between animals and humans. It is perhaps of historical interest here to note that animals were considered as legal entities or "persons" in the Middle Ages, and that they could, for example, be brought to trial.
Felibien's hierarchical construction implies that individualisation is a term that can only be used in connection with human beings. Arthur Schopenhauer, too, in his major philosphical work "The World as Will and Idea" (1819), contends that animals, because of their species, cannot be portrayed (Book 3, 45). Portraits, he wrote, could only be made of the human countenance and form, whose appearance induced a "purely aesthetic contemplation" in the spectator, "filling us with an inexpressible sense of well-being that transcends us and all that tortures our souls."


Albrecht Durer
An Artist Drawing a Seated Man

An important mechanical device designed to help the portraitist was a square pane of glass upon which the artist traced the outlines of the sitter. From here the outlines were copied onto the panel. The artist would view his sitter through a peep-hole located at the top of a rod whose height could sometimes - as seen above - be adjusted. This machine enabled artists to apply the principles of centralized perspective described in Leon Battista Alberti's treatise on painting (c. 1435).


Similarity and Idealisation


Donna Velata

Attributes of this unidentified woman's dress, her veil and the pearls in her hair,
suggest the painting was executed to mark the occasion of her marriage.


However exaggerated we may consider Schopenhauer's Romantic enthusiasm to be, and however distant his ideas may seem to us now, it can hardly be denied that portraits continue to fascinate us, especially those of the period we are considering here. Almost no other genre of painting is capable of transmitting such an intimate sense of lived presence over so great a distance in time. This undoubtedly is linked to our subconscious attribution to the portrait of authenticity: we expect a faithful rendering that shows us what the sitter was really like.
Leaving aside for a moment the question of whether it is actually possible to empathise with portraits executed in earlier periods, or whether psychological explanations based on our own, emotionally-coloured perceptions are ultimately tenable, it must be pointed out that genuine likenesses were - in any case - not necessarily always the order of the day.
Indeed, instead of the likeness of a ruler, coins during the early Middle Ages would often carry the "imago" or "effigies" of a Roman emperor in whose dynastic or official succession the ruler of the day - by "translatio imperii" - saw himself as standing." The actual appearance of a living prince was therefore less important than the political and social institution within whose tradition he wished, or demanded, to be seen.


Andrea Mantegna
Cardinal Lodovico Trevisano

The sitter, viewed slightly from below, was formerly identified as Cardinal Mezzarota. However, more recent research suggests he is Cardinal Lodovico Trevisano (1401-1465). Trevisano was personal physician to Cardinal Gabriele Condulmaro. On later becoming Pope Eugene IV, Condulmaro appointed Trevisano to high ecclesiastical office.

Jan Van Eyck
Cardinal Nicola Albergati

Jan Van Eyck
Cardinal Nicola Albergati

Jan van Eyck probably made silvcrpoint preliminary drawings for most of his portraits.
This study was made for his portrait of Cardinal Albergati, whose visit to Bruges lasted only from 8th to 11th December 1431.
Written on the drawing are precise colour notes for the painting itself.


This did not change until the late Middle Ages, when it became unacceptable to substitute one likeness for another. One may be quite right to doubt whether an early French profile portrait of King John the Good, painted c. 1360 at the same time as the portrait of Rudolf IV of Habsburg, really shows the person named in the inscription. However, scepticism of this kind is perhaps less appropriate with regard to Jan van Eyck's Tymotheos portrait (Jan van Eyck "Leal Souvenir" -"Tymotheos"), especially since the artist has attempted to dispel such doubts from the outset. The inscription LEAL SOUVENIR - loyal remembrance - certifies the authenticity of the portrait; its purpose, not unlike that of a notary's attestation, is to verify the identity of the likeness and the sitter.


King John the Good


"Identity" here evidently has little to do with that consistent sense of self which links several periods in a person's life - a notion that does not appear to have gained currency prior to the emergence of seventeenth-century Neo-Stoicist ideals of constancy - but is rather used to describe the relationship between the external appearance of a person and its apprehension by others: the mimetic equation. "All similarity... is an image or sign of equality" (Similitudo autem omnis est aequalitatis species seu signum), wrote Nikolaus von Kues, a contemporary of Jan van Eyck. Natalie Zemon Davis has shown that we can only understand the sixteenth-century story of Martin Guerre, whose wife was deceived by the appearance of her husband's double, if we remember that recognition, or identification, even of intimate acquaintances, had not yet become existentially significant in everyday life. The notion of individuality implied by such recognition does not seem to have replaced more traditional patterns of thought until the adoption of Roman Law by the social elite. Portraits now assumed an important role in helping to identify individuals. Inevitibly, this altered the dominant aesthetic, intensifying naturalistic demands for a faithful pictorial imitiation of reality.
Verifiable resemblance therefore became an essential criterion of portrait-painting during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. This greatly contrasted with the later, almost normative views expounded in Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's "Aesthetics", which raged at "almost repulsively lifelike portraits" and demanded that the portrait-painter flatter his subject, paying less attention to outward appearance and "presenting us with a view which emphasises the subject's general character and lasting spiritual qualities." According to this view, it was spiritual nature that should determine our picture of the human being.


Albrecht Durer
Hieroronymus Holzschuher

This portrait of a Nuremberg patrician, a friend of Durer, was orginally kept in a locked
case. This suggests that it was not intended for offical use, a hypothesis reinforced by the fact
that Holzschuhcr is bareheaded. The sitter's piercing gaze may indicate that Durer wished
- as in his similiarly staring "Apostle" Paul - to characterise Holzschuher's melancholic


The concept of identity expressed here derives from the principle of inwardness in German idealist philosophy. Although it might therefore support an analysis of the nineteenth-century portrait, it would be out of place in an account of the genre's earlier history. The unusual degree of accuracy found in early likenesses must be seen in conjunction with the absence of categories of beauty or ugliness. Earlier portraits, for example by van Eyck, seem entirely indifferent to judgement from this quarter. It was only in the late fifteenth century that studies of ideal proportions, especially by Italian artists, led to the establishment of aesthetic norms. In his treatise on painting Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo (1538-1600) expresses the essential purpose of these new standards by demanding of the portrait-painter, that he "emphasise the dignity and grandeur of the human being, suppressing Nature's irregularities."


Man (alias "Ariosto")

Titian's portrait of "Anosto", showing the sitter from the side with his bent arm resting on a parapet,
established a new type of portrait which found many admirers,
including Rembrandt (see Rembrandt Self-Portrait).


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