What Is the History of Portraiture in Art?

Art|Art History

Portraiture in art has been around for centuries. It is a way for an artist to capture a person’s likeness, and it can be used to tell stories, express emotions, and immortalize important people.

The earliest known examples of portraiture in art date back to ancient Egypt. These portraits were often painted on wood or papyrus and depicted the Pharaohs or other important figures in their society. They were usually highly stylized and idealized depictions of the subject and often included symbols associated with power or divinity.

The Greek and Roman periods saw the emergence of more naturalistic portraiture, with the goal being to capture a realistic likeness of the subject. These paintings often depicted gods and goddesses, rulers, poets, philosophers, and other famous figures from their society.

The Middle Ages were marked by a renewed interest in religious art. Portraits of Jesus Christ and other religious figures were popular during this period.

The Renaissance period saw a shift away from religious themes towards more secular ones. Artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt van Rijn, Peter Paul Rubens all made significant contributions to portraiture during this era.

In the 19th century photography became popular as an alternative to painting portraits. This allowed artists to capture more realistic likenesses of their subjects without spending hours on detailed painting techniques.

Photographers such as Julia Margaret Cameron began experimenting with portrait photography as an artistic medium.

Modern day portraiture is highly varied. It embraces both traditional painting techniques as well as digital technology such as Photoshop. Photographers such as Annie Leibovitz are highly celebrated for their work in modern portraiture.


Portraiture has been around for centuries and has evolved over time from Ancient Egypt through to today’s modern age of digital technology. It is a powerful tool for capturing a person’s likeness and telling stories about them that will last through time.