We have just released a new virtual tour about the evolution of portrait painting. It is available in the Amuze – Museum Audio Tours app (iOS and Android) The genre of portrait painting has a long history with known examples from over 3000 years ago. Like most genres, the Renaissance meant a big step forward in the realism of these portraits. It is not surprising that our tour starts with a wedding portrait by one of the most famous artists of the Early Renaissance: Jan van Eyck. He painted an incredibly detailed portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife which is on display in the National Gallery.
The example of Van Eyck inspired other Renaissance artist to develop individual portraits. By the end of the 15th century, Albrecht Dürer became the first to make individual self-portraits. Before, some artist had included their own portrait in the background of a larger portrait, but Dürer had enough confidence to paint himself. His work was shortly followed by the Mona Lisa portrait by Leonardo da Vinci.
And whereas these portraits were idealized to some extent, Hans Holbein the Younger started to paint some portraits in England that did not idealize all aspects of the sitter. His Portrait of Henry VIII of England in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum is a great example of that.
But the real surge in the popularity and development of portrait painting occurred during the Baroque. In the Northern European countries, the church was no longer the most important commissioner of art and artists had to become innovative and find a new audience. This innovation was most fruitful in the Dutch Republic. Frans Hals and Rembrandt substantially increased the realism of individual portraits. Another important development was the appearance of the dynamic group portrait, of which The Night Watch is the most famous example.
Developments in portrait painting were relatively slow during the end of the 17th century and the first half of the 18th century. But by the end of the 18th century, beautiful portraits were made again by artists like Reynolds (in England), Ingres (France), Goya (Spain), and Stuart (United States).
The tour ends with some portraits painted during the end of the 19th century by John Singer Sargent and Vincent van Gogh. These portraits look incredibly modern compared to the portraits by earlier artist and, in the tour, we will explain what the motivations of these different artists were and what makes these portraits so special.
We hope that while most museums in the world are still closed, you can enjoy this virtual tour in the Amuze app. We also offer virtual tours about the following themes (check out the content of each tour):