In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Portraiture

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Introductory Works
  • Modern Foundations
  • Historiographical and Critical Studies

Renaissance and Reformation Portraiture
C. Jean Campbell
  • LAST REVIEWED: 31 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 June 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0204


In many ways the topic of portraiture seems natural to the Renaissance and Reformation, especially when the Renaissance is defined, in the tradition of Jacob Burckhardt, as the “rebirth of the individual.” Historically, discussions of portraiture intersect thematically not only with discussions of individuality, subjectivity, and self-consciousness but also with discussions of realism/naturalism and idealism, authorship and authority, and eventually selfhood, cultural poetics, and the (political) construction and presentation of “identity.” Yet, for all the ways portraiture has served as a testing ground for various expectations concerning the intellectual, cultural, and social history of the period, the question of what constitutes a portrait remains open. The expectation that a portrait is a picture that represents a specific and historically locatable individual is challenged in various ways. That definition is necessarily complicated by studies that focus on the functions of portraiture: aesthetic, rhetorical-poetic, commemorative, religious, mythic, and otherwise anthropological. With the turn to relational models, the idea of the “autonomous portrait” as a marker of the Renaissance has given way to considerations of the beholder’s share. Even the anthropocentric definition of portraiture and the insistence on the face as the locus of humanity have been called into question. The works collected in this bibliography are organized with two goals in mind. The first is to portray the shape of the field of study by laying out its familiar themes, including the theorization of portraiture and painting, and recognizable types and/or areas of concentration, including lovers’ portraits, court portraiture, humanist portraits, and portraits that imitate Antique types. The second goal is to indicate where the shape of the field has been or is being challenged, for example, by gender studies; stretched to focus on questions of material, medium, and making; and broken down to blur such old categorical distinctions as that between sacred image and portrait.

General Overviews

The standard English-language surveys of Renaissance portraiture are Pope-Hennessy 1989 and Campbell 1990. Pope-Hennessy expands the familiar early-20th-century themes of Renaissance cultural and intellectual history—personality, individual psychology, humanism, the interplay of realism, idealism, and emblematic representation—into a series of essays. While sharing many of the basic assumptions concerning what constitutes a Renaissance portrait, Campbell gives Flemish 15th-century examples a more prominent place than Pope-Hennessy. His book is also a more systematic, curatorial survey of the objects, covering topics such as portrait types, sitter types, techniques, and functions and paying closer attention to specific formal and material qualities. Sorabella 2000– provides a very general narrative, keyed to the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Schneider 1994, while similarly aimed at a more general audience than either Pope-Hennessy 1989 or Campbell 1990, is also more forthcoming about the 19th-century philosophical motives that underlie the study of Renaissance portraiture. Boehm 1985 engages the tradition established in Burckhardt 1990 and Burckhardt 1993 (both cited under Modern Foundations) and develops, through critical reflection, the themes of representation and individuality. These overviews are both supplemented and thematically updated by exhibition catalogues. Two catalogues of the past decade have provided a great deal of material: Campbell, et al. 2011 and Christiansen and Weppelmann 2011. Both are useful for the way in which they make specialized scholarship available for a more general readership. They provide numerous high quality reproductions and extensive bibliographies, as well as short interpretive essays on selected works.

  • Boehm, Gottfried. Bildnis und Individuum: Über den Ursprung der Porträtmalerei in der italienischen Renaissance. Munich: Prestel, 1985.

    Boehm focuses on Italy, especially the art of northern Italy and Venice. This is a specialized survey, complete with an articulated historiographic consciousness, meditating on the terms “portrait” and “individual.”

  • Campbell, Lorne. Renaissance Portraits: European Portrait-Painting in the 14th, 15th, and 16th Centuries. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 1990.

    One of the two standard English-language surveys of Renaissance portraiture. Campbell’s work is oriented toward types and techniques of production and is extensively illustrated in black-and-white and color. It is useful as an introduction and resource for both undergraduates and graduate students.

  • Campbell, Lorne, Miguel Falomir, Jennifer Fletcher, and Luke Syson. Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011.

    Originally published in 2008, this catalogue is more broadly representative of European portrait traditions than the catalogue of the 2011 exhibition (London/New York). It features introductory essays on the cultural-symbolic meaning, making, and display of portraits along with catalogue essays focused on individual works, and a bibliography.

  • Christiansen, Keith, and Stefan Weppelmann, eds. The Renaissance Portrait: From Donatello to Bellini. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011.

    A lavishly illustrated exhibition catalogue that covers the field of Italian portraiture in the later 15th and 16th centuries. Along with a series of introductory essays reflecting the current questions in the field, the catalogue features entries on individual works and an extensive bibliography. It is a useful resource for both students and scholars.

  • Pope-Hennessy, John Wyndham. The Portrait in the Renaissance: The A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts, 1963 [Delivered at] the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989.

    Six essays on Renaissance portraits, originally published in 1966. Although its premises are much debated, the book remains a standard for studies of Renaissance portraiture.

  • Schneider, Norbert. Art of the Portrait: Masterpieces of European Portrait-Painting, 1420–1670. Cologne: Taschen, 1994.

    A lavishly illustrated survey of individual works directed primarily at non-specialists and covering the breadth of Europe over two and a half centuries. Following an easily readable critical introduction, the book offers a series of catalogue-type essays on famous or otherwise representative portraits.

  • Sorabella, Jean. “Portraiture in Renaissance and Baroque Europe.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.

    An introductory essay, with rudimentary bibliography, on the theme of European portraiture. Sorabella’s essay is keyed to works in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and linked to catalogue entries for individual works.

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