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In painting, portrait is a representation of one or more human subject, where the intent is to show not only the appearance, but also the inner world of the portrayed. The genre reached its greatest development precisely when faith in man and the power of his mind was quite strong: anthropocentrism is clearly expressed in the paintings of Renaissance masters who created beautiful expressive portraits.

The first attempts to capture a person were made in ancient times. Scientists have more than once found drawings made with chalk or coal, in which, however, no individuality was observed. Schematic images with no personal features of the subject’s appearance can hardly be considered a portrait in the modern sense. The first portrait genre paintings may be considered Fayum mummy portraits, amazingly realistic artworks made using the encaustic technique, which replaced the funeral masks of the dead in Roman Egypt. From time immemorial, the portrait carried some elements of mysticism, cult, and magic: among many peoples it was precisely the similarity that was of great importance for ensuring the return of the soul to the body.

The evolution of portraiture is closely related to the development of science, in particular, anatomy, as well as the development of technical skills, the change of ideas and concepts about man and the value of the personality. The paintings by the Renaissance artists, which refer to the portrait genre, are distinguished by clarity and expressiveness of images, albeit somewhat idealized. This time is considered to be a turning point for the genre: the most significant portraits, famous throughout the world, were created in the Renaissance. Suffice it to recall the names of such portrait painters as Raphael, Giorgione, TitianDürer and many others. Perhaps the most famous portrait in history, Mona Lisa, was painted by Leonardo da Vinci in accordance with the philosophical ideas of the time about a person, the significance of the personality.

It should be noted that the theme of portrait paintings is always the life of a particular subject who existed in the past or currently exists, and who can be placed in a certain environment or depicted in any way. This explains a fairly large number of subgenres: a portrait can be historical, posthumous, family, religious or costume. However, the main role on an artist’s canvas always belongs to man.

Famous portrait painters of the past and present

Starting from the Renaissance, each period had many brilliant masters of the genre, each of whom painted in his/her own unique manner. In the 14—15th centuries, the outstanding artists who painted portraits were Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli, Giotto, Pinturicchio and others. A distinctive feature of their works was that the model was placed in a natural environment: depicted against the landscape or interior backdrop, organically fit into the surrounding world and interacted with it. These techniques are especially noticeable in the works of the Dutch artists: Van Eyck, Campin. The most famous masters, whose works are still admired by connoisseurs and art lovers, were DürerFouquet and Holbein.

In the 17th century, several decades after the decline in art and the dominance of mannerism, new forms of portraiture appeared, which became more democratic. Representatives of all social strata became the subjects of the works, and the artists tried to reflect the complexity of the inner world of man in their paintings. Famous names of this period are Rembrandt, Rubens, VelázquezPoussin and many others.

The 17—19th centuries in art was a period of searching for ideas, the emergence of new directions, crises. Among the talented portrait painters of these centuries were Gainsborough, Goya, David, DelacroixRenoir and Degas. Later, Van Gogh and Cézanne created their masterpieces, Russian public get their Itineraries.

In Arthive, there are images of portrait paintings, created by the greatest portraitists of the past, as well as the artworks by modern artists, both little-known and popular. Sign up for the website and get access to one of the most extensive virtual art galleries!