Full text See used
West, Shearer. What is a Portrait?
2004, In: Portraiture, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 21-41.
Added by: Hans Maes

Summary: Explores three fundamental claims: (1) portraits can be placed on a continuum between the specificity of likeness and the generality of type; (2) all portraits represent something about the body and face, on the one hand, and the soul, character, or virtues of the sitter, on the other; (3) all portraits involve a series of negotiations – often between artist and sitter, but sometimes there is also a patron who is not included in the portrait. NB: In the Introduction preceding this chapter West also questions the cliché that portraits are an invention of the Renaissance and an exclusively Western phenomenon.

Comment: This text offers a great introduction to the topic of portraiture and an overview of the subject. It can also be useful in a wider context of depiction and representation.

Artworks to use with this text:

Jan Van Eyck, Madonna With Chancellor Rolin (1433) vs Rogier van der Weyden, The Donor, Chancellor Rolin, Kneeling in Prayer; from the reverse of Last Judgment Polyptych (1445)

A comparison of these two paintings reveals how likenesses are always mediated by the varying functions of portraits and the distinct styles of the artists.

Angelica Kauffmann, Portrait of J.W. Goethe (1787-8)

For women artists such as Kauffmann the control of the gaze during sessions with male sitters could be socially uncomfortable but empowering.

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