Art History Lab

Looking Through Time: A Journey into the World of Portraiture

Portraiture has been a part of the art world for centuries, with artists creating portraits through various media to capture the essence of their subjects. Portraiture allows the viewer insight into the person’s character, emotions, and even their social status.

The historical significance of portraiture is vast, as it serves as a visual documentation of the past. This article aims to provide an overview of the history of portraiture in art and introduce some famous portrait artists.

Part 1 -to Portraiture in Art:

Portraiture has been around since ancient times, but the Middle Ages saw a significant shift in the way portraits were created. Artists of that time created portraits using various techniques, such as painting, printmaking, sculpture and photography.

With advancements in technology and the invention of the camera, the art of portraiture changed. Photography became the most popular means of creating portraits due to its accuracy, speed, and availability.

Another aspect of portraiture is the intimacy and genre it presents. Portraits can capture the essence of a person in a profound manner, reflecting their personality, emotions, and social status.

The master artists of the past were experts in capturing their subject’s gaze and bringing the viewer into an intimate moment with the subject. As such, portraiture is a genre that has been made by artists throughout history.

Part 2 – Famous Portrait Artists in Art History:

1. Leonardo da Vinci: Leonardo da Vinci was a famous High Renaissance artist known for his skills in portraiture.

His most notable work is the Mona Lisa, which features a famous enigmatic smile. 2.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo: Giuseppe Arcimboldo was a Mannerist artist famous for creating portraits of people using intricate arrangements of animals, plants, and objects. His most famous painting is The Seasons and Vertumnus.

3. Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn: Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was a Baroque artist from the Dutch Golden Age known for his self-portraits.

His paintings capture his emotions, portraying him as he ages throughout his life. 4.

Johannes Vermeer: Johannes Vermeer was a Baroque artist famous for his painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring, which captures the beauty of a young woman with a pearl earring. 5.

Gustav Klimt: Gustav Klimt was an Austrian Symbolist artist and a founder of the Art Nouveau movement famous for his Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. This painting shows a regal woman with gold and colourful patterns behind her.

6. Pablo Picasso: Pablo Picasso was a Cubist artist and founder of the modern art movement.

His Portrait of Gertrude Stein is famous for his use of a modernist style. 7.

Rysei Kishida: Rysei Kishida was a Japanese artist who was known for his Yga portraiture. The Portrait of Reiko Sitting is one of his most famous works.

8. Grant Wood: Grant Wood was an American artist of the Regionalism movement known for his painting, American Gothic, which depicts a stern-faced male and female from around the turn of the century.

9. Frida Kahlo: Frida Kahlo was a Mexican Surrealist painter famous for her self-portraits.

Her paintings often featured her suffering and the struggles in her life. 10.

Lucian Michael Freud: Lucian Michael Freud was a British figurative artist known for his paintings of people’s naked bodies. His Girl with a White Dog painting is a testament to his certain and realistic style.

11. Andy Warhol: Andy Warhol was an American Pop artist who used his unique style to create many portraits.

One of his most famous works is the Marilyn Diptych, which features multiple portraits of Marilyn Monroe. 12.

Zanele Muholi: Zanele Muholi is a contemporary South African artist whose photographic portraits explore themes of race, gender, and sexuality. Her series Somnyama Gonyama is a collection of self-portraits.

13. Amy Sherald: Amy Sherald is an American artist best known for her contemporary portraiture.

Her painting of First Lady Michelle Obama made her famous, and it depicts the former First Lady in her usual pose with a deep expression. 14.

Shadi Ghadirian: Shadi Ghadirian is an Iranian artist known for her role as a feminist icon. Her Like Every Day series showcases objects which represent women’s oppression in her country.

15. Kehinde Wiley: Kehinde Wiley is an American contemporary portrait painter.

He is famous for painting famous figures in positions inspired by the classical European styles. His painting, Equestrian Portrait of King Philip II is one of his notable works.


Artists have been creating portraits for centuries, using various techniques and styles to capture the essence of their subjects. Portraiture is a genre that offers the viewer insight into the past, allowing us glimpses into the lives, emotions, and social status of those depicted.

This article covered the historical significance of portraiture and introduced some of the most famous portrait artists in art history. Their works inspire us to look at people in a deeper way and appreciate their unique qualities.

Part 3 – Significance of Portraiture in Art

Portraiture is a type of art that depicts a person’s likeness and captures their character and personality. The purpose of portraiture can be for identification, tribute, commemoration, or subjective interpretation.

At its core, portraiture is a representation of a person, but it also has deeper meanings beyond surface-level features. Portraits can be used for identification purposes, such as in a passport or driver’s license, but they can also be created to pay tribute to someone special by immortalising them in art.

Similarly, portraiture can be used for commemoration purposes, such as those created to honour soldiers who have passed away in wartime.

The subjective interpretation of the sitter that the artist presents is another aspect of portraiture that adds depth to the meaning of the work.

The artist’s interpretation of the sitter can be reflective of the cultural mores of the time or can be a reflection of the artist’s personal concept of beauty. This personalisation is what makes portraiture an individual interpretation of the world around us and the people in it.

The relationship between the artist, sitter, and viewer is essential when it comes to portraiture. The sitter is the subject of the portrait, and they provide the artist with the inspiration they need to create the work.

The artist, on the other hand, imbues the portrait with their interpretation of the sitter, either by capturing their essence or by stylising and embellishing their features. The viewer completes the triad, as they seek to understand the artist’s vision and portrayal of the sitter.

Part 4 – Types of Portraiture in Photography

Portraiture in photography involves capturing an individual’s likeness through a camera lens. There are four types of portraiture in photography: creative, constructionist, candid, and environmental.

Each type of portraiture has its unique style and approach, and the photographer’s vision is critical in capturing their subject. 1.

Creative Approach:

The creative approach to portraiture in photography involves expressing the sitter’s personality through stylised or “glamour” shots. By using careful lighting, poses, and makeup, photographers capture their subject in a stylised manner, akin to fashion photography.

However, the photograph’s focus is on the individual rather than the clothes they wear. 2.

Constructionist Approach:

The constructionist approach to portraiture in photography involves using props, such as clothing or objects, to tell a story about the sitter. Photographers use characters, narratives, and other elements to construct a scene that reflects the sitter’s personality and character.

3. Candid Approach:

The candid approach to portraiture in photography involves capturing the sitter in an unguarded moment, allowing for an honest representation of who they are.

These photos are taken spontaneously and capture the genuine expression of the sitter, sometimes without them even being aware they are being photographed. 4.

Environmental Approach:

The environmental approach to portraiture in photography involves capturing the sitter in a particular location or environment that defines their personality, character, or profession. The focus of these photographs is not just on the sitter, but the context and environment they inhabit.

This approach is often used in portrait photography for performers, musicians, and artists. Conclusions:

In conclusion, portraiture in art is a representation of the sitter that captures their likeness, character, and personality.

Through various media such as painting, printmaking, sculpture and photography, artists can immortalise an individual’s image and give us insight into their world. The four types of portraiture in photography: creative, constructionist, candid, and environmental, allow photographers to capture the essence of their sitters in unique ways.

Whether it is capturing an individual’s unguarded moment or using props to tell a story, portrait photography is an art that allows us to see the world around us through different lenses.

Part 5 – The Most Expensive Portrait in the World

The art world is known for its record-breaking prices with some pieces selling for millions of dollars. But the most expensive portrait ever to be sold was painted by Leonardo da Vinci and is called the Salvator Mundi.

The painting gained international attention after being rediscovered in the early 2000s, and its subsequent sale for a record-breaking price in 2017. Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi

Salvator Mundi translates as “Saviour of the World”, and it is a portrait of Jesus Christ, with his right hand raised in a blessing and the orb he holds in his left hand representing the world.

The painting is very lifelike, with incredible details in the face, hair, and clothing. The painting was completed around 1500 and was lost for centuries before it reappeared in the early 2000s.

The painting was initially believed to be a copy of a lost work by da Vinci. However, when it underwent a 6-year restoration process, it was discovered to be authentic, leading experts to hail it as a true masterpiece.

In 2017, the Salvator Mundi was sold to a Saudi Arabian prince at a Christie’s auction in New York for an unprecedented sum of $450.3 million, making it the most expensive painting in the world. The previous record was held by Willem de Kooning’s painting, Interchange, which was sold for $300 million in 2015.

The reasons for the painting’s immense value are numerous. Firstly, its rarity, as there are only around 15 known paintings by Leonardo da Vinci.

The painting’s condition is also impressive, considering its age and the materials used to paint it. Furthermore, its authenticity and provenance solidify its value as a true masterpiece.

The Salvator Mundi is not just the most expensive portrait in the world; it is also one of the most debated paintings in art history. Some experts dispute its authenticity, stating that it was partially painted by a member of da Vinci’s studio rather than the master himself.

Other experts have suggested that the painting’s significance and age have been inflated, and its true value is nowhere near its record-breaking sale price. Regardless of the debate surrounding its authenticity, the Salvator Mundi’s sale has amplified the world’s interest in high-value art pieces.

It has caused a significant shift in the art market and, in turn, challenged perceptions of art and beauty. Its sale not only broke records but also cemented the idea that art is valuable not only as a form of aesthetic pleasure but also as an investment opportunity.

In conclusion, Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi is the most expensive portrait in the world, sold for a record-breaking sum of $450.3 million. The painting is a masterpiece, capturing the essence of Jesus Christ in an exquisite and lifelike manner.

Regardless of the debates surrounding its authenticity, it is a testament to the enduring value of art and its importance in shaping the world’s cultural conversation. In conclusion, portraiture in art holds great significance, allowing artists to capture the likeness, character, and essence of individuals throughout history.

We explored the historical significance and genre of portraiture, as well as delved into the works of famous portrait artists. Portraits serve various purposes, such as identification, tribute, and commemoration, while also involving a dynamic relationship between the artist, sitter, and viewer.

Additionally, we examined different approaches to portraiture in photography, including creative, constructionist, candid, and environmental styles. Lastly, we discussed the most expensive portrait in the world, Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, which ignited debates and reshaped the art market.

The enduring value of portraiture lies not only in its aesthetic appeal but also in its ability to capture human experience and provoke thought. Portraiture offers us a glimpse into the diverse stories and emotions of individuals, reminding us of the power and beauty of human expression throughout time.

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