Portraits can take many forms. Traditionally, the main function of a portrait was to convey the character of the sitter, which was often closely linked to a faithful representation of the subject’s physical appearance. A close reading of visual elements, such as facial expressions, poses, gestures, hairstyles, clothing, accessories, and background settings, help viewers understand how the sitter wished to be presented and remembered. Whether a lowly shepherd, a mythological character, or a powerful queen, the subject’s real or assumed features become fixed in time, assuring their fame for future generations. Portraits, however, are not as straightforward as they seem. As time progressed, artists began to play with the concept of faithful representation, creating new, intriguing forms of portraiture, ranging from conceptual works that focus on surprising aspects of the subject, to works that many would not immediately recognize as a portrait.
In this cardstack, explore works from the Blanton’s collection that range from conventional portraiture to surprising representations in contemporary art. Do these works reinforce or challenge your idea of what a portrait should be?