A portrait is a painting, photograph, sculpture, or other artistic representation of a person, in which the face and its expression is predominant. The intent is to display the likeness, personality, and even the mood of the person. For this reason, in photography a portrait is generally not a snapshot, but a composed image of a person in a still position. A portrait often shows a person looking directly at the painter or photographer, in order to most successfully engage the subject with the viewer.
Profile view, full face view, and three-quarter view, are three common designations for portraits, each referring to a particular orientation of the head of the individual depicted. Such terms would tend to have greater applicability to two-dimensional artwork such as photography and painting than to three-dimensional artwork such as sculpture. In the case of three-dimensional artwork, the viewer can usually alter their orientation to the artwork by moving around it.
A portrait is a work of pictorial, graphic, photographic art, etc. whose purpose is to represent, in a similar way, a person with his outfit and his characteristic expressions. The term portrait applied to sculpture in France in the classical period.
The term is more rarely applied to the representation of an animal, although animals often appear in portraits, as appendices characteristic of the person represented, as in the equestrian portrait.
Most early representations that are clearly intended to show an individual are of rulers, and tend to follow idealizing artistic conventions, rather than the individual features of the subject’s body, though when there is no other evidence as to the ruler’s appearance the degree of idealization can be hard to assess. Nonetheless, many subjects, such as Akhenaten and some other Egyptian pharaohs, can be recognised by their distinctive features. The 28 surviving rather small statues of Gudea, ruler of Lagash in Sumeria between c. 2144 – 2124 BC, show a consistent appearance with some individuality.
Some of the earliest surviving painted portraits of people who were not rulers are the Greco-Roman funeral portraits that survived in the dry climate of Egypt’s Fayum district. These are almost the only paintings from the classical world that have survived, apart from frescos, though many sculptures and portraits on coins have fared better. Although the appearance of the figures differs considerably, they are considerably idealized, and all show relatively young people, making it uncertain whether they were painted from life.
The art of the portrait flourished in Ancient Greek and especially Roman sculpture, where sitters demanded individualized and realistic portraits, even unflattering ones. During the 4th century, the portrait began to retreat in favor of an idealized symbol of what that person looked like. (Compare the portraits of Roman Emperors Constantine I and Theodosius I at their entries.) In the Europe of the Early Middle Ages representations of individuals are mostly generalized. True portraits of the outward appearance of individuals re-emerged in the late Middle Ages, in tomb monuments, donor portraits, miniatures in illuminated manuscripts and then panel paintings.
Moche culture of Peru was one of the few ancient civilizations which produced portraits. These works accurately represent anatomical features in great detail. The individuals portrayed would have been recognizable without the need for other symbols or a written reference to their names. The individuals portrayed were members of the ruling elite, priests, warriors and even distinguished artisans. They were represented during several stages of their lives. The faces of gods were also depicted. To date, no portraits of women have been found. There is particular emphasis on the representation of the details of headdresses, hairstyles, body adornment and face painting.
One of the best-known portraits in the Western world is Leonardo da Vinci’s painting titled Mona Lisa, which is a painting of Lisa del Giocondo. What has been claimed as the world’s oldest known portrait was found in 2006 in the Vilhonneur grotto near Angoulême and is thought to be 27,000 years old.
Genres of Portrait
When the artist creates a portrait of him- or herself, it is called a self-portrait. Identifiable examples become numerous in the late Middle Ages. But if the definition is extended, the first was by the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten’s sculptor Bak, who carved a representation of himself and his wife Taheri c. 1365 BC. However, it seems likely that self-portraits go back to the cave paintings, the earliest representational art, and literature records several classical examples that are now lost.
The official portrait is a photographic production of record and dissemination of important personalities, notably kings, presidents and governors. It is usually decorated with official colors and symbols such as flag, presidential stripes and coat of arms of countries, states or municipalities. There is also connotation as an image of events, products and meetings.
Portrait photography is a popular commercial industry all over the world. Many people enjoy having professionally made family portraits to hang in their homes, or special portraits to commemorate certain events, such as graduations or weddings. Since the dawn of photography, people have made portraits. The popularity of the daguerreotype in the middle of the 19th century was due in large part to the demand for inexpensive portraiture. Studios sprang up in cities around the world, some cranking out more than 500 plates a day. The style of these early works reflected the technical challenges associated with 30-second exposure times and the painterly aesthetic of the time. Subjects were generally seated against plain backgrounds and lit with the soft light of an overhead window and whatever else could be reflected with mirrors.
As photographic techniques developed, an intrepid group of photographers took their talents out of the studio and onto battlefields, across oceans and into remote wilderness. William Shew’s Daguerreotype Saloon, Roger Fenton’s Photographic Van and Mathew Brady’s What-is-it? wagon set the standards for making portraits and other photographs in the field.
In politics, portraits of the leader are often used as a symbol of the state. In most countries it is common protocol for a portrait of the head of state to appear in important government buildings. Excessive use of a leader’s portrait, such as that done of Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, or Mao Zedong, can be indicative of a personality cult.
In literature the term portrait refers to a written description or analysis of a person or thing. A written portrait often gives deep insight, and offers an analysis that goes far beyond the superficial. For example, American author Patricia Cornwell wrote a best-selling book entitled Portrait of a Killer about the personality, background, and possible motivations of Jack the Ripper, as well as the media coverage of his murders, and the subsequent police investigation of his crimes.
Technique and practice:
A well-executed portrait is expected to show the inner essence of the subject (from the artist’s point of view) or a flattering representation, not just a literal likeness. As Aristotle stated, “The aim of Art is to present not the outward appearance of things, but their inner significance; for this, not the external manner and detail, constitutes true reality.” Artists may strive for photographic realism or an impressionistic similarity in depicting their subject, but this differs from a caricature which attempts to reveal character through exaggeration of physical features. The artist generally attempts a representative portrayal, as Edward Burne-Jones stated, “The only expression allowable in great portraiture is the expression of character and moral quality, not anything temporary, fleeting, or accidental.”
In most cases, this results in a serious, closed lip stare, with anything beyond a slight smile being rather rare historically. Or as Charles Dickens put it, “there are only two styles of portrait painting: the serious and the smirk.” Even given these limitations, a full range of subtle emotions is possible from quiet menace to gentle contentment. However, with the mouth relatively neutral, much of the facial expression needs to be created through the eyes and eyebrows. As author and artist Gordon C. Aymar states, “the eyes are the place one looks for the most complete, reliable, and pertinent information” about the subject. And the eyebrows can register, “almost single-handedly, wonder, pity, fright, pain, cynicism, concentration, wistfulness, displeasure, and expectation, in infinite variations and combinations.”
Portrait painting can depict the subject ‘full length’, ‘half length’, ‘head and shoulders’ (also called a “bust”), or ‘head’, as well as in profile, “three-quarter view”, or “full face”, with varying directions of light and shadow. Occasionally, artists have created portraits with multiple views, as with Anthony van Dyck’s “Triple Portrait of Charles I”. There are even a few portraits where the front of the subject is not visible at all. Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World (1948) is a famous example, where the pose of the disabled girl with her back turned to the viewer integrates with the setting in which she is placed to convey the artist’s interpretation.
Another example of the “three-quarter view” in portraiture, in this case photography, can be found here, at the Portrait article.
Among the other possible variables, the subject can be clothed or nude; indoors or out; standing, seated, reclining; even horse-mounted. Portrait paintings can be of individuals, couples, parents and children, families, or collegial groups. They can be created in various media including oils, watercolor, pen and ink, pencil, charcoal, pastel, and mixed media. Artists may employ a wide-ranging palette of colors, as with Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Mme. Charpentier and her children, 1878 or restrict themselves to mostly white or black, as with Gilbert Stuart’s Portrait of George Washington (1796).
Sometimes, the overall size of the portrait is an important consideration. Chuck Close’s enormous portraits created for museum display differ greatly from most portraits designed to fit in the home or to travel easily with the client. Frequently, an artist takes into account where the final portrait will hang and the colors and style of the surrounding décor.
Creating a portrait can take considerable time, usually requiring several sittings. Cézanne, on one extreme, insisted on over 100 sittings from his subject. Goya on the other hand, preferred one long day’s sitting. The average is about four. Portraitists sometimes present their sitters with a portfolio of drawings or photos from which a sitter would select a preferred pose, as did Sir Joshua Reynolds. Some, such as Hans Holbein the Younger make a drawing of the face, then complete the rest of the painting without the sitter. In the 18th century, it would typically take about one year to deliver a completed portrait to a client.
Managing the sitter’s expectations and mood is a serious concern for the portrait artist. As to the faithfulness of the portrait to the sitter’s appearance, portraitists are generally consistent in their approach. Clients who sought out Sir Joshua Reynolds knew that they would receive a flattering result, while sitters of Thomas Eakins knew to expect a realistic, unsparing portrait. Some subjects voice strong preferences, others let the artist decide entirely. Oliver Cromwell famously demanded that his portrait show “all these roughnesses, pimples, warts, and everything as you see me, otherwise I will never pay a farthing for it.”
After putting the sitter at ease and encouraging a natural pose, the artist studies his subject, looking for the one facial expression, out of many possibilities, that satisfies his concept of the sitter’s essence. The posture of the subject is also carefully considered to reveal the emotional and physical state of the sitter, as is the costume. To keep the sitter engaged and motivated, the skillful artist will often maintain a pleasant demeanor and conversation. Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun advised fellow artists to flatter women and compliment their appearance to gain their cooperation at the sitting.
Central to the successful execution of the portrait is a mastery of human anatomy. Human faces are asymmetrical and skillful portrait artists reproduce this with subtle left-right differences. Artists need to be knowledgeable about the underlying bone and tissue structure to make a convincing portrait.
For complex compositions, the artist may first do a complete pencil, ink, charcoal, or oil sketch which is particularly useful if the sitter’s available time is limited. Otherwise, the general form then a rough likeness is sketched out on the canvas in pencil, charcoal, or thin oil. In many cases, the face is completed first, and the rest afterwards. In the studios of many of the great portrait artists, the master would do only the head and hands, while the clothing and background would be completed by the principal apprentices. There were even outside specialists who handled specific items such as drapery and clothing, such as Joseph van Aken Some artists in past times used lay-figures or dolls to help establish and execute the pose and the clothing. The use of symbolic elements placed around the sitter (including signs, household objects, animals, and plants) was often used to encode the painting with the moral or religious character of the subject, or with symbols representing the sitter’s occupation, interests, or social status. The background can be totally black and without content or a full scene which places the sitter in their social or recreational milieu.
Self-portraits are usually produced with the help of a mirror, and the finished result is a mirror-image portrait, a reversal of what occurs in a normal portrait when sitter and artist are opposite each other. In a self-portrait, a righted handed artist would appear to be holding a brush in the left hand, unless the artist deliberately corrects the image or uses a second reversing mirror while painting.
Occasionally, the client or the client’s family is unhappy with the resulting portrait and the artist is obliged to re-touch it or do it over or withdraw from the commission without being paid, suffering the humiliation of failure. Jacques-Louis David celebrated portrait of Madame Récamier, wildly popular in exhibitions, was rejected by the sitter, as was John Singer Sargent’s notorious Portrait of Madame X. John Trumbull’s full-length portrait, General George Washington at Trenton, was rejected by the committee that commissioned it. The famously prickly Gilbert Stuart once replied to a client’s dissatisfaction with his wife’s portrait by retorting, “You brought me a potato, and you expect a peach!”
A successful portrait, however, can gain the lifelong gratitude of a client. Count Balthazar was so pleased with the portrait Raphael had created of his wife that he told the artist, “Your image…alone can lighten my cares. That image is my delight; I direct my smiles to it, it is my joy.”
Source From Wikipedia