Portraiture is the representation of individual people with the help of visual art. Portraiture is associated with the description of the person’s character regarding her social position, occupation and wealth. When we look at the portrait or sculpture, we are able to define the social position and character of the depicted subject. We recognize whether he is rich or poor, smart or blunt, young or old. What is more, it is possible to define the profession of the subject due to the presented attributes that fit in the general stereotype about every occupation. We will easily recognize a king, doctor, soldier, etc. when we take a look at the subject’s clothes and accessories. Portraiture is one of the most popular kinds of visual art. Its history is long and engrossing. I am going to analyze the types of portraits and the factors that make artists execute them.
Nearly everyone believes that a perfect portrait should be based on likeliness. Painting, sculpture or photograph of a person should at least resemble this person. Many people think that the quality of a portrait depends on the artist’s skill to create a photographic likeliness of the depicted subject. Nearly every famous and rich person wanted to get her own portrait. No wonder, the majority of kings and other noble people had their own portraits in the form of painting or sculpture. They wanted their portraits to possess all possible attributes of their power and position. Common people enjoyed portraits too. However, these portraits served as the documentation of the subject’s appearance for the younger generations of his/her family. Finally, they focused on the profession of this person. We can also speak about self-portraits. Many artists made attempts of executing self-portraits. They wanted to preserve their appearance in stone, wood or canvas.
They knew that a portrait makes its owner immortal. The memory about the portrait’s subject remains forever. Thus, we remember about famous kings and public figures due to the portraits that have survived through the hundreds of years.
However, it is impossible to say that portraits are based on likeliness. There are many portraits that do not resemble the subjects depicted on them. There are abstract and psychological portraits that focus mainly on the associations and attributes that define the subject’s personality. If you pay attention to any portraits executed by impressionists or cubists, you will never identify the depicted person. Such artists dwell on the subject’s traits of character and emotional condition.
It is noteworthy to say that in Eastern cultures artists pay less attention to likeliness than in Western cultures. For instance, if you look at the portraits of Japanese shoguns or Chinese emperors, you will never find any difference between them. Artists depicted a son in the same way as they executed his grandfather. Faces and postures were the same. Western cultures are based on the emphasis of the person’s originality. They tried to notice every distinct feature of the subject’s appearance in order to make her portrait authentic.
Why is portraiture so vital? Portraiture is a paramount form of art for anthropology and human history. Due to sculptures and paintings, we are able to learn about the appearance of the people who lived many centuries ago. We can learn about their clothes, traditions, attributes, fashion and values. What is more, portraiture helps us understand the standards of beauty. The standard of beauty has changed every decade. With the run of time, we can see that men appreciated plump, suntanned, skinny or pale women. It is possible to say that every portrait is a credible and objective evidence of the generally accepted standard of beauty. When a woman wanted to have her own portrait, she tried to be as attractive as she could. Thus, we can definitely say which women were supposed to be pretty 100 or 300 years ago.
It is difficult to define the best type of portraiture according to its likeliness or accuracy.
When we speak about sculpture, it is hard to depict human character with its help. It is difficult to depict one’s face in the marble. Painting is much better. An artist is able to represent the subject’s character with the help of various artistic tricks. He uses color and shape to reveal the subject’s nature. If we speak about photography, this art is very complicated. On the one hand, photography represents the subject accurately. However, it is difficult to capture the moment that will reveal his actual personality and temperament.
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