The History and Meaning of Portaiture

Portraits, changing faces, photography, likeness, character

25 April – 4 July 2017
Tuesdays 10.45am - 12.45pm
The University Women's Club, 2 Audley Square, London W1K 1DB
Leslie Primo
Full course (10 lectures) £470.00
Single session £54.00
(includes morning coffee, tea and biscuits)

Book your place now on The History and Meaning of Portaiture Course

“An amazingly thorough historical view”
“Erudite, articulate, thought-provokinng”

This course will examine the changing face of the portrait from the 6th century to the present. It will look at how and why its meaning and function have mutated and why artists are still drawn to this medium despite the advent of photography. It will also explore whether a portrait has to convey an accurate likeness and how artists went about trying to convey “character”.

Lady with an Ermine (Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani) Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1490
Omai Sir Joseph Banks and Daniel Charles Solander, William Parry Self (2011) by Marc Quinn, Blood artist’s, stainless steel, perspex and refrigeration equipment

Course outline

Early Portaiture and the Need for Likeness: From C6th - C16th

In the first lecture you will look at early C6th depictions, the impact of Christianity on portraiture and its conflicting ideologies on the use and alleged misuse of images. You will also examine the rise of the likeness portrait (and the need for likeness) as opposed to the portrait.

No lecture

The Rise and Fall of Botticelli: Images of love & devotion

We will concentrate on the unique and personal approach of Botticelli’s portraiture, his origins and close association with the first family of Florence – the Medici - as well as track the sitters in his series, both known and unknown, including those in the ‘Primavera’ and ‘Venus Rising’. We will also examine his motivation in producing these enigmatic paintings.

Leonardo da Vinci and and the art of portraiture

Leonardo was fascinated with portraits and Madonnas, a subject he would return to time and again. The challenge of the compositional group held a particular interest and obsessive fascination for him. We will explore his early use of oil and drawing mediums, his association with noble families, the interaction between these families and the female portraiture which resulted through these associations.

Titian to Van Dyck: Portraiture from Renaissance to Baroque

The new tradition of portraiture begun by Raphael, its origins and the emerging styles will be examined by looking at ancient Roman coins and paintings from 1350 – 1642, particularly the two master portraitists – Titian and van Dyck.

Joseph Wrigh of Derby: Portraiture, Men & Art in the Age of the Lunar Society

The English painter Joseph Wright of Derby used portraiture to depict a new industrial age. He was the one artist who would document this extraordinary era and together with Sir Joshua Reynolds, Benjamin West, Nathaniel Dance and those who were on the periphery of this club (Captain Cook and Sir Joseph Banks) we will examine the lives, achievements, interests and connections of those who attended the Lunar Society or were associated with it (James Watt, Matthew Boulton, Josiah Wedgwood, Erasmus Darwin, Joseph Priestley and Richard Arkwright).

Joshua Reynolds and the Portrait of Omai: Celebrity & the Exotic in England

This lecture will concentrate on one iconic portrait and the context in which it came about. In its time, Joshua Reynolds’s portrait of Omai became an emblem of Britain at the height of its imperial powers. We will look at his ideas of self-image, his influences and how this related to Omai. What does this portrait tell us about C18th English society, its perception or preconception of the Other or non-white European? How prevalent were pseudo-scientific ideas which affected the way Omai was perceived and finally envisioned? What happened when Omai returned to the South Seas? Can one ever go back and what was the impact of returning?

Angelica Kaufmann and England’s obsession with portraiture

Angelica Kauffmann was born in Switzerland but went on to become a great British Neo-Classical artist, her reputation equalling male contemporaries in an age that rarely recognised women. Looking at her training and early paintings as well as the influence of the great Italian Renaissance masters and Dutch painting on her work, we will chart her rise to fame and her association with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Joshua Reynolds.

Invention and Re-Invention: Gauguin’s Portraits and the Myth of Paradise

Gauguin’s almost obsessive use of self-portraiture to control and manipulate his own identity was in effect to re-invent himself. We will look at these paintings to determine what message he was trying to convey especially during his time in Tahiti.

Re-Invention of the Self: The Art and Artifice of the Self-Portrait

When is a portrait a portrait and when is it not a portrait? We will take a look at the Art and Artifice of the Portrait & Self-Portrait and examine both known and unknown figures. What possible use were portraits and what meaning did they have to those who commissioned them?

The Passage of Time: Portraiture in Life & Death From the Middle Ages to the Modern Age

The final lecture will look at one of the oldest and most enduring preoccupations of the artist - mortality and legacy. Starting with the Medieval through to the Renaissance and Rembrandt’s obsession with his own image, we will finally come to the Impressionists and the modern day. Looking at works by Ofili, Hirst and Quinn, the parallels between artists’ practice and their preoccupation with mortality will be explored.