Portrait photography is an antique art style that dates back 5,000 years and was developed in Egyptian Civilization.

Before photo development, the only means to capture somebody's look was through a painting, carved, or sketched picture. Continue to read to know more about portraits.

If you want to learn portrait photography yourself, then head over to our article on portrait photography to get started.

What Is Portrait Photography? | Dan Kennedy

What is a portrait?

A portrait is a picture of a person's face and features in a painting, picture, statue, or another creative medium. The goal is to convey the people's image, character, and even attitude. They were used to demonstrate the person's authority, significance, integrity, attractiveness, riches, elegance, knowledge, and other traits.

What is a self-portrait?

Self-portraits are a fascinating subgenre of portraits that may be rather self-revealing. A self-portrait does not have to be realistic; a creator's conceptual or symbolic image of oneself can also be considered a self-portrait. Any media may be used to rely on self.

Painters may incorporate self-portraits in bigger group portraiture or a self-portrait in a different design, such as landscapes, stories, or journalistic pieces.

self portrait

5 Things to notice for reading a portrait

The Components of Portrayal serve as a basis for our interactions with the artwork.

1. Color

Color schemes convey the meaning of the images. The colors indicate different purposes, and they also set the tone and mood of the portrait.

2. Pose and gestures

The sitting positions also describes the person attitude, characteristics and sometimes can draw upon the context of the image.

3. Facial expressions

Facial expressions convey the emotions and feelings of the person.

4. Costume and clothing

Clothing can talk about the period/era the picture is taken. It also indicates the person's occupation, societal status, character etc.

5. Background

Background elements let the spectator focus on the background, which might describe the period of the picture and also about the focal individual.

When going more into the significance of portraiture, it's helpful to learn about the sociopolitical background of the period to comprehend the portrayal completely.

The history of portraits

Prehistorical portraiture

Prehistoric art is artwork created by pre-modern, ancient civilizations.

Plastered human skulls were Middle East's earliest works that showcase that people went to great lengths to bury their relatives under their dwellings. The skulls represent some of the first sculpted portrait instances in history.

These human skulls were produced around 9000 and 6000 BC in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B era in the ancient Levant.

Historical portraiture

The majority of initial portrayals were designed to show a person's authority, and they tend to follow idealizing artistic norms rather than individual characteristics of the person's body. However, the extent of idealization can be challenging to evaluate when there is no other proof as to the dictator's looks.

Portraiture thrived in Ancient Roman and Greek art, where sitters desired personalized and accurate portraits, even if they were unfavourable. In the fourth century, the portraiture began to fade away in favour of an idealized representation of the person's appearance.

portrait of noblesmen


A self-portrait is a painting where the artist makes a picture of themselves. In the late Middle Ages, recognizable cases become more common. However, if the concept is broadened, the first self-portrait was sculpted by Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten's sculptor Bak, who created a portrait of himself and his wife Taheri in 1365 BC.

On the other hand, self-portraits appear to have their origins in cave drawings, the oldest form of figuration, and history mentions numerous classical examples that are now gone.

Portrait photography

Portrait photography is a thriving hub of trade. Many individuals appreciate having created family photographs and unique photos to mark significant occasions like graduation ceremonies or marriages.

People have been taking portraits ever since the advent of photography. The need for affordable portraiture fueled the development of the daguerreotype in the middle of the nineteenth century. Studios sprung up worldwide, some producing more than 500 plates every day. Subjects were sat in front of simple backdrops, lighted by the warm light of a window.

5 famous portrait examples

1. The Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci (1503-1506)

The Mona Lisa is among the most iconic pictures in fine arts. Both the artistic element and the topic have piqued attention throughout the years.

The Mona Lisa forms a triangular. The arms serve as a foundation for her solidity, and her hands as lines and shapes to the apex of the triangular, which is her face.

The stance is 2/3 towards the spectator with comfortable arms folded, which is still widely popular. Lastly, notice how well the sunlight from the upper left generates enough contrast between the brightness and the shades to give the picture dimension.


2. Self-portrait with a Straw Hat, Van Gogh (1887)

At least 35 self-portraits were painted by Vincent Van Gogh, who would use them to practise painting others, and several of them became iconic pictures.

3. Self-portrait, Rembrandt (1660)

Rembrandt van Rijn is recognized as the artist of light for his iconic portraiture; it is stated that his colour pallet consisted of deep earthy hues since lighting is the central theme. Rembrandt employed light to accentuate fabric and flesh and disclose feeling via expressions searching for truth and reality.

4. Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer 1, Gustav Klimt (1907)

Gustav Klimt began his career by completing private assignments to draw murals on municipal spaces. By 1900, he mainly was painting portraiture for the Jewish Viennese elite, a young set of industrialists who ended up being art fans and his most fervent supporters.

Klimt defied convention by co-founding the Vienna Secession and became known as an artist of attractive ladies. Adele Bloch Bauer is featured in two photographs, but he created hundreds of preliminary sketches for them. This portrait is one of the two, and it is painted with oil paintings covered with silver and gold leaf on it.

His work exemplifies how cross-disciplinary research and audiovisual methodologies may provide powerful results.

5. Girl in a Sailor’s blouse, Amadeo Modigliani (1918)

One of the most specific crafts in art history is the Modigliani's portraits' long necks.

According to Mason Klein, creator of the exhibit Modigliani Unmasked, he was "wondering the stability of identification" while separating from figurative art. With our ubiquitousness via online identities, the refusal of linear preconceptions, and the variety of offline and online profiles, this portraiture inquiry is as relevant as ever.

Learn photography

Famous portraiture influenced photographers from the medium's inception. I hope you now have a clear picture of portraits' meaning and origin.

If you are new to the photography game, you are jumping into a big pool. Head over to our page on photography to get started.

Portrait definition FAQ

What is a portrait?

A portrait is a picture of a person's face and features in a painting, picture, statue, or other creative medium

What is considered a portrait?

What is considered a portrait? It is a painting, picture or sculpture which makes the person’s face and expressions predominant.

What’s the difference between a portrait and a photo?

Drawing, painting, printing, photography, and other techniques are used to depict anything (such as a person, a landscape, or a structure) on fabric, papers, or another surface whereas a portrait is a picture of persons face where there’s elevation of their features.

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