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a. a painting, drawing, sculpture, photograph, or other likeness of an individual, esp of the face
b. (as modifier): a portrait gallery
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a depiction or description (in literature) of a person or group of people living or dead. In the arts, the portrait is one of the principal genres of painting, sculpture, graphics, and photography. The genre is based on the commemorative principle, that is, the perpetuation of a person by means of a visual representation. The resemblance of the depiction to the sitter, a most important criterion of portraiture, results not only from a faithful rendering of the appearance of the model but also from the truthful revelation of the sitter’s inner being. The latter is expressed in a combination of distinctive features belonging to the sitter as the representative of a specific historical period, nationality, and social milieu. However, because of the impossibility of bringing the viewer of the portrait face to face with the model, the term “portrait” is often applied to any individualized representation of a person that is the sole or principal theme of a work of art.

Usually, a portraitist depicts a contemporary and works directly from nature. However, a type of portraiture, known as historical portraiture, has developed that depicts some person of the past on the basis of the recollections or imagination of the artist, who may use literary and documentary materials as a guide. In both types of portraiture the objective rendering of reality is accompanied by the expression of the relationship between the artist and model, reflecting the artist’s own world view and artistic credo. All this, conveyed in a particular artistic style, brings a subjective element to the portrait.

Many different types of portraits have developed. They vary in format and mode of execution. There are studio portraits, which include easel paintings, busts, and graphic sheets, and monumental portraits, which include sculptural monuments, frescoes, and mosaics. Portraits may be formal or informal, half-length or full-length, and en face or in profile. In different eras, portraits on medals and coins (medallion art), on gems (glyptic), and in miniature have enjoyed popularity. There are individual, double, and group portraits. A special type of portrait is the self-portrait.

The boundaries of portraiture are very changeable, and one work of art may combine portraiture with elements of other genres. For example, the subject may be depicted in a meaningful relationship with nature, architecture, and other people. The symbolic portrait—the representation of a collective image—is structurally close to portraiture. When portraiture is combined with genre or historical art, the model is often brought into interaction with imaginary figures.

Portraiture can reflect high spiritual and moral human qualities. It is also capable of truthfully and, sometimes, mercilessly exposing the subject’s negative qualities. This is particularly common in caricatures and satirical portraits. On the whole, portraiture is capable both of conveying the distinctive traits of a given person and of strongly reflecting important social phenomena in the complex interweaving of their contradictions.

The origins of portraiture go back to early antiquity. The first significant examples are encountered in ancient Eastern, particularly Egyptian, sculpture. At that time, portraiture was largely connected with cults, religion, and magic. The need to provide a “double” of the subject, to accompany him into the next world, resulted in the projection of the distinctive features of the given person upon an impersonal, canonical representational type. In time, the Egyptian portrait became less canonical. This is particularly evident in the spiritualized human images of the New Kingdom in the period of El-Amarna, 14th century B.C.

In classical Greece, generalized, idealized sculptures of poets, philosophers, and social figures were produced. In the late fifth century B.C., Greek portraiture became increasingly individualized, as seen in the work of Demetrius of Alopeke and Lysippus. In the Hellenistic period, from the late fourth through first centuries B.C., portraiture took on a more dramatic character.

Sculptural portraiture flourished in ancient Roman art, where its development was linked with an increased interest in the individual man and an expansion of the range of portrait subjects. Many Roman portraits are based on the precise, almost overly scrupulous duplication of the sitter’s distinctive features, while observing a certain unity between individual and general elements. In the imperial period, some artists turned to idealizing, often mythicizing, portraiture. The best examples of Roman portraiture are distinguished by trueness to life and psychologically expressive characterization. In addition to busts and statues, portraits on coins, cameos, and, to some extent, painted portraits were popular in Hellenistic Greece and ancient Rome.

The Fayyum portraits, produced in Egypt from the first through fourth centuries A.D., are among the earliest surviving examples of small-scale portraiture. Although connected in many ways to the traditions of ancient Eastern portraiture and to religious and magical beliefs, the Fayyum portraits also show the influence of classical art. They were drawn directly from nature and bear a clear resemblance to a specific individual; late examples provide an insight into the subject’s personality.

Multifaceted European medieval culture, full of sharp contradictions and a constant struggle beween spiritual and elementally material tendencies, produced its own special imprint on the development of portraiture. The medieval artist, limited by strict church canons, turned to portraiture somewhat infrequently. To his understanding, individualism was subordinated to religious collectivism. In many cases, medieval portraiture constitutes an integral part of church architecture. Principally depicted were such prominent people as rulers and their families, court favorites, and donors. Many medieval portraits are impersonal. However, certain Gothic sculptures and frescoes and the mosaics of Byzantine, Russian, and other Western and Eastern European churches reflect the sitter’s personality and physiognomical features. The medieval artist often imparted the features of actual people to representations of the saints.

Medieval Chinese portraiture, especially of the Sung period (tenth to 13th centuries), is characterized by great tangibility. Despite subordination to a strict typological canon, the medieval Chinese masters created numerous vividly individualized secular portraits, often revealing the inner essence of their sitters. A number of portraits by medieval Japanese painters and sculptors are marked by great psychological depth. Superb examples of portrait miniatures were produced in the feudal period in Middle Asia, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan (Kemaleddin Behzad), Iran (Reza Abbasi), and India.

Portraiture in painting, sculpture, and graphic art flourished during the Renaissance, developing most fully in the art of Italy. The humanistic individualism of the Renaissance man demanded an entirely new structure in portraiture. Renaissance man loosened the confines of religion, came to believe firmly in the force of the creative personality, and considered himself “the measure of all things.” In many instances, the Renaissance portraitist idealized his sitter, yet he invariably sought to grasp the essence of the person. While depicting his sitter in a specific environment, the artist arranged his model to fulfill compositional requirements. The sitter was rarely placed against a conventional, unrealistic background, as in medieval art. Instead the sitter was portrayed in a realist interior or landscape and often in direct, lively discourse with mythological or biblical figures. In frescoes, the artist frequently depicted himself among the other figures. Elements of Renaissance portraiture were already evident in the trecento in the work of Giotto and Simone Martini. They were well established by the 15th century in the monumental and easel paintings of Masaccio, Andrea del Castagno, Domenico Veneziano, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli, Piero della Francesca, Pinturicchio, Mantegna, Antonello da Messina, Gentile Bellini, and Giovanni Bellini; in the statuary of Donatello and Verocchio; the sculptures of Antonio Rossellino, Desiderio da Settignano, Mino da Fiesole, and Benedetto da Maiano; and the medallions of Pisanello.

Renaissance anthropocentrism is reflected most clearly in the portraiture of the masters of the High Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Giorgione, Titian, and Tintoretto added even more depth to the portrait, endowing it with force of intellect and a sense of personal freedom and inner harmony. They introduced new means of artistic expression, for example, the aerial perspective of da Vinci and the coloristic discoveries of Titian.

The highest achievements of Renaissance portraiture are associated with the work of 15th- and 16th-century Northern European masters. Netherlandish portraitists included J. van Eyck, Robert Campin, Rogier van der Weyden, H. van der Goes, Geertgen tot Sint Jans, Lucas van Leyden, Q. Massys, and A. More. Among the German masters were A. Dürer, L. Cranach the Elder, and H. Holbein the Younger. Despite a certain stylistic resemblance to Italian Renaissance portraiture, the works of the Northern Renaissance masters reflect the sitter’s personality more and are marked by greater detail. In addition, the portraitists of the Italian Renaissance often treated their subjects as being more important than the surroundings, whereas the Netherlandish and German portraitists often represented the sitter as an integral element of the world, forming an organic part of an infinitely complex system.

Humanism permeates the subtle and elegantly executed portraits of such French Renaissance painters, graphic artists, and sculptors as J. Fouquet, J. Clouet, F. Clouet, Corneille de Lyon, P. Bontemps, and G. Pilon. During this period, new forms of group portraiture arose in different countries. The hieratically frozen group portraits of the Middle Ages were replaced by compositions with many interacting figures. The first significant group portraits and double portraits in easel painting were produced at this time. The historical portrait also developed in various directions.

In the art of mannerism, which was popular in the 16th century, portraiture lost its Renaissance clarity. Features appeared that reflected a turbulent perception of the contradictions of the day. Compositional organization changed, and there were strong emotional overtones. This is evident, in varying degrees, in portraits by the Italian masters Pontormo and Bronzino and the Spanish painter El Greco.

Radical social, ideological, and scientific upheavals in Europe during the late 16th and early 17th centuries influenced the development of new kinds of portraiture. Its specifics were now determined by a changed perception of the world, that is, a break with the anthropocentrism inherited by the Renaissance from classical antiquity. The breakdown of harmonious and clear views of reality was accompanied by complications in the inner world of man and his relationship with his surroundings. There was an irresistible drive toward a deeper self-understanding and toward a broad comprehension of reality. All this contributed to a search for greater fidelity to the sitter’s appearance and for revelation of the sitter’s complex character.

In the early 17th century, easel painting played the major role in the development of portraiture. Its heights are represented by the work of major 17th-century masters whose importance goes far beyond the limits of that era. An enormous achievement of 17th-century portraiture was its manifest democratization, which received fullest expression in Holland. The portrayal of people of different social strata and national groups characterize the many true-to-life portraits by Rembrandt, which are distinguished by the greatest love for mankind and a grasp of the innermost depths of human life and moral beauty. Such subjects are also present in the sharply realistic portraits of F. Hals, who vividly revealed the changeability of the sitter’s mood. The un-precedentedly wide use of group portraiture characteristic of Dutch portraitists was linked with the strengthening of bourgeois-democratic elements in the life of the country.

Different facets of human nature emerge in portraits by the Spaniard D. Velázquez, which reflect the manysidedness and contradictoriness of reality. Hals and Velázquez created symbolic portraits based on representatives of the common people, revealing the dignity, richness, and complexity of the people’s inner world. Great truthfulness permeates the portraits of the court and church elite by Velázquez and the Italian sculptor L. Bernini.

The voluptuous attracted P. P. Rubens, a major 17th-century Flemish painter. Rubens also influenced the development of the intensely lyrical, informal portrait. The masterful portraits of the Flemish painter A. van Dyck are marked by subtle yet expressive characterization. The striving of artists toward self-understanding and assertion of their creative individuality, a tendency that developed in the 17th century, contributed to a broad and multifaceted development of the self-portrait. Outstanding self-portraits were produced by Rembrandt and his countryman C. Fabritius, van Dyck, and the French painter N. Poussin. Realistic tendencies also are present in portraits by V. Ghislandi of Italy, F. Zurbaran of Spain, S. Cooper and J. Riley of England, and P. de Champaigne, M. Le Nain, and R. Nanteuil of France. Substantial changes in the thematic content of portraiture were accompanied by an evolution in expressive means. The ambience of light and air was portrayed by means of chiaroscuro, and new painting techniques, employing thick and sometimes distinguishable strokes, were introduced. Such innovations imparted to the sitter a hitherto unknown lifelike quality and realistic dynamism. Movement was the compositional basis of many 17th-century portraits, with an enormous role being assigned to expressive gesturing. The relationship between the sitters in a group portrait became decidedly more active, and the tendency of this genre to develop into the group “narrative portrait” became distinctly marked. Negative tendencies in art were also felt in the 17th-century portrait. In many of the formal portraits of this period, the realistic descriptive element, with difficulty, broke through the conventionality of forms characteristic of baroque art. However, a number of portraits openly idealized the prominent persons who commissioned them (for example, the works of the French painter P. Mignard, the French sculptor A. Coysevox, and the English painter P. Lely).

By the second half of the 17th century many of the achievements of realistic portraiture had been relegated to oblivion. Both the aristocrat and the bourgeois, feeling themselves more and more the masters of life, demanded absolute flattery from portraiture. In Holland, the realism of Rembrandt was replaced by sweet sentimentality, cold theatricality, and conventionalized representation. Aristocratic court portraiture flourished particularly in France.

In the 18th century, representatives of official art, for example, J. Nattier and F. H. Drouais, produced numerous examples of pseudo-idealizing, often “mythicizing,” formal portraiture, in which the leading role was assigned to the sitter’s decorative costume. At the same time, a new realistic portraiture arose, which was linked in many ways to the humanistic ideals of the Enlightenment. In France, this tendency was manifested in the keenly analytical images of the painter M. Q. de Latour and of the sculptors J. A. Houdon and J. B. Pigalle. It was also evident in A. Watteau’s refined late works, J. B. S. Chardin’s genre portraits (rare in their lifelike simplicity and sincerity), J. B. Perronneau’s warm and lyrical pastels, and J. H. Fragonard’s true-to-life, skillfully executed portraits. In Great Britain, the new realistic portrait was represented by the works of W. Hogarth, which express an acute social and democratic consciousness.

Fresh realistic trends were particularly manifest in portraits executed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, with the emergence of such virtuoso masters as J. Reynolds and T. Gainsborough in Great Britain and G. Stuart in the United States. The informal and formal portraits by these painters are distinguished by accurate social characterization, subtle psychological analysis, and the uncovering of the inner world and multifarious feelings of the sitter.

In Russia, interest in portraiture increased in the 17th century as a result of the country’s economic, political, and cultural growth. The parsuna (individual portrait) became popular at this time. Russian secular portraiture developed intensively in the 18th century, as seen in the canvases of I. N. Nikitin, A. M. Matveev, A. P. Antropov, I. P. Argunov, and I. Ia. Vishniakov. By the end of the century it was equal in stature to the highest achievements of contemporary world portraiture (the paintings of F. S. Rokotov, D. G. Levitskii, and V. L. Borovikovskii; the sculptures of F. I. Shubin; the engravings of E. P. Chemesov).

The French Revolution contributed in many ways to new developments in portraiture. Revolutionary events are recorded in a number of J. L. David’s neoclassical historical portraits. The numerous portraits executed by David at the turn of the 19th century, which are insightful social characterizations of representatives from different social circles, reveal many fundamental aspects of the period vividly and truthfully.

The issues of revolution and liberation pervaded the extremely realistic portraits by the Spanish painter F. Goya, which initiated a critical trend in the portrait genre. Goya’s passionate informal portraits and self-portraits are essentially romantic.

Romantic tendencies developed further in the first half of the 19th century, with portraits by the painters T. Géricault and E. Delacroix and the sculptor F. Rude of France; the painters O. A. Kiprenskii, K. P. Briullov, and (to some extent) V. A. Tropinin of Russia; and P. O. Runge in Germany. At the same time, neoclassical traditions continued to develop, filled with new content taken from life (represented by the painter J. A. D. Ingres in France). The first significant examples of satirical portraiture in graphic art and sculpture in the 19th century were produced by H. Daumier.

The problems of social characterization and systematic revelation of man’s ethical qualities through his psychology were approached in new ways in the realistic portraiture of the middle and late 19th century. The geographical range of portraiture expanded still further, with the rise of a number of national schools and numerous stylistic trends represented by different artists (G. Courbet in France, A. Menzel and W. Leibl in Germany, A. Stevens in Great Britain, E. Werenskiold in Norway, J. Matejko in Poland, M. Munkácsy in Hungary, K. Mánes in Czechoslovakia, and T. Eakins in the USA).

The great achievements in late 19th-century Russian portraiture were associated with the intensification of democratic trends in Russian life. The peredvizhniki (“wanderers”—a progressive art movement), whose members included V. G. Perov, N. N. Ge, I. N. Kramskoi, N. A. Iaroshenko, and I. E. Repin, created a virtual gallery of portraits of outstanding national cultural figures. The portraits of peasants by Perov, Kramskoi, and Repin reflect the concern of democratic artists to represent the common man as significant and having a rich inner life. Russian portraitists often turned to the symbolic portrait, choosing anonymous representatives of the people and of the revolutionary intelligentsia as their subjects. Their portraiture often constituted emphatic exposés and portrait elements were frequently introduced into genre and historical art (for example, the paintings of V. I. Surikov).

With the birth of photography, the photographic portrait developed under the strong influence of portrait painting and, in turn, stimulated a search for new forms, inaccessible to photography, in portrait painting, sculpture, and graphic art.

In France, in the last third of the 19th century, a fundamental change in the thematic and artistic conception of portraiture occurred as a result of the discoveries of the impressionists and artists associated with them, such as the painters E. Manet, A. Renoir, and E. Degas and the sculptor A. Rodin. Their portraits, based on images imbued with profound humanism, portrayed the sitter’s changeable appearance and behavior in an equally changeable milieu. Impressionist features in varying degrees characterize the works of A. Zorn (Sweden), M. Liebermann (Germany), J. Whistler and J. S. Sargent (United States), and K. A. Korovin (Russia).

The portraits of P. Cézanne, the greatest French master of the last third of the 19th century, stand in opposition to impressionist portraiture in their aims and composition. Cézanne strove to express certain persistent traits of the sitter in a monumental and unified artistic image. During the same period, the Dutch artist V. van Gogh produced dramatic and nervously intense portraits, which strongly reflected the burning problems of modern man’s moral and spiritual life.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the style of art nouveau left its own special imprint on the artistic vocabulary of portraiture, endowing it with laconic pointedness and, not infrequently, lending features of the grotesque to the characterization of the subject (for example, portraits by H. de Toulouse-Lautrec in France and E. Munch in Norway).

In prerevolutionary Russia, realism attained a new quality in V. A. Serov’s keenly psychological portraits, which are filled with profound social fervor. M. A. Vrubel’, S. V. Maliutin, and A. Ia. Golovin executed portraits that are full of inner feeling and reveal the values of the artist in various ways. The painter N. A. Kasatkin and the sculptor S. T. Konenkov produced socially meaningful symbolic portraits of workers. The thematic portraits of A. E. Arkhipov, B. M. Kustodiev, and F. A. Malia-vin exalt the wholesomeness of the common people. Lyrical, informal portraits were produced by V. E. Borisov-Musatov, K. A. Somov, and Z. E. Serebriakova. At the same time, a precipitate degradation of portraiture may be observed in numerous works by salon artists and in the portraits by members of various “leftist” art groups.

In the 20th century the particularly complex and contradictory trends of the art of the new historical period and the growing conflict between democratic and bourgeois cultures manifested themselves in portraiture. Modernism gave rise to works devoid of the basic tenets of portraiture. Such works abandoned fidelity to the sitter’s appearance for stylized abstraction. In counterbalance to this, intensive searches continued for new realistic means of affirming human spiritual strength and beauty in portraiture. The realistic traditions of portraiture were carried on in the graphic art of K. Kollwitz of Germany, the painting of W. Orpen and A. John in Great Britain, and the sculpture of E. A. Bourdelle, A. Maillol, and C. Despiau in France. Contradictory intellectual and artistic trends have coexisted and, sometimes, clashed in the portraiture of the major 20th-century Western European masters (P. Picasso, H. Matisse, A. Derain, G. Rouault, and A. Modigliani in France; G. Grosz, O. Dix, and E. Barlach in Germany; and O. Kokoschka in Austria).

By the mid-20th century, the development of portraiture had become ever more complex and increasingly reflected crisis. The genre’s loss of the life-affirming principle was accompanied by the deliberate distortion of the human form. In certain modernist schools the human image virtually disappeared. However, progressive masters abroad (the painters R. Guttuso in Italy, H. Erni in Switzerland, D. Rivera and D. Siqueiros in Mexico, A. Wyeth in the United States and Maeda Seison in Japan; the sculptors X. Dunikowski in Poland, W. Aaltonen in Finland, G. Manzù in Italy, D. Davidson and J. Epstein in the USA) have developed and continue to develop the traditions of world realistic portraiture, enriching it with new artistic discoveries and creating images full of truth and humanistic sincerity. Positions of socially active, fundamentally democratic realism are held by such artists of socialist countries as F. Cremer (GDR), C. Baba (Rumania), G. Kisfauldi-Stróbl (Hungary), and D. Uzunov (Bulgaria).

Soviet portraiture represents a qualitatively new stage in the history of world portrait art and is distinguished by all of the genre’s characteristic features. It has exhibited a consistent tendency toward equal development in all the basic fields of the fine arts. The portrait is ever more often finding its way into the picture, monumental sculpture, poster, and satirical graphic art. Soviet portrait art is multinational, having absorbed the traditions of Western European and Russian realistic portraiture and the achievements of the many 19th- and 20th-century portraitists who represent the different peoples of the USSR. The basic content of Soviet portraiture is the new man—the builder of communism and the bearer of such qualities of personality as collectivism, socialist humanism, internationalism, and revolutionary orientation. The principal subject of Soviet portraiture is the common man. Symbolic portraits and thematic works containing portraits are being produced that reflect the new phenomena in the country’s economic and public life (for example, works by I. D. Shadr, G. G. Riazhskii, A. N. Samokhvalov, S. V. Gerasimov, and S. A. Chuikov). Members of the Soviet intelligentsia are the subjects of works by the painters Maliutin, K. S. Petrov-Vodkin, M. V. Nesterov, P. D. Korin, I. E. Grabar’, P. P. Konchalovskii, M. S. Sar’ian, S. M. Agadzhanian, K. K. Magalashvili, T. T. Salakhov, and L. Muuga; the sculptors Konenkov, V. I. Mukhina, S. D. Lebedeva, T. Zal’kaln, and L. Davydova-Medene; and the graphic artists V. A. Favorskii, G. S. Vereiskii, and E. Einmann. Also popular are portraits of industrial workers, Soviet soldiers (the sculptures of E. V. Vuchetich, N. V. Tomskii, and G. G. Chubarian; the paintings of A. A. Shovkunenko, V. P. Efanov, and I. A. Sere-brianyi; the graphic art of F. Pauliuk), and kolkhozniks (the paintings of A. A. Plastov, A. Gudaitis, and I. N. Klychev).

Group portraits, based on a new intellectual and artistic foundation, are being produced by A. M. Gerasimov, Korin, and D. D. Zhilinskii. Innovative features distinguish the historical and, especially, historical-revolutionary portraits of artists of the Union republics (including Lenin-Leader series by N. A. Andreev and the works of I. I. Brodskii, VI. A. Serov, V. I. Kasiian, and la. I. Nikoladze). Developing in the path of the unified intellectual-artistic method of socialist realism, Soviet portraiture is distinguished by the diverse creativity of its practitioners, its wealth of artistic styles and thematic solutions, and its bold search for new means of expression.


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Ocherki po istorii russkogo portreta kontsa XIX-nachala XX veka. Edited by N. G. Mashkovtsev and N. I. Sokolova. Moscow, 1964.
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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


(graphic arts)
A printing orientation in which the printed lines are parallel to the narrow side of the paper.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


An orientation that is tall and narrow like a letter page. Also known as a "page orientation." Except for videos, most content on the Web is in a portrait style. See portrait monitor, landscape and computer portrait.

Copyright © 1981-2019 by The Computer Language Company Inc. All Rights reserved. THIS DEFINITION IS FOR PERSONAL USE ONLY. All other reproduction is strictly prohibited without permission from the publisher.
References in classic literature ?
Among the portraits was one of King George III Little Alice clapped her hands, and seemed pleased with the bluff good-nature of his physiognomy.
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