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A brief history of portraiture

A brief history of portraiture

From Pharaohs and Emperors, to the royals and the nobles, to the bourgeoisie and the celebrities, and now to you.

The 21st century is yet to be defined by a style of portraiture but at Fabulous Noble we believe that contemporary portraits will be defined by new media; much in the same way that the art world has developed. We believe that the potential for outmost creativity and excellence resides in illustration and design.

Portraits have been around since the beginning of time as a means to describe not only physical features but more importantly power and status. Testaments of portraiture as a genre can be seen as early as Ancient Egyptian wall paintings of gods and pharaohs.

Ancient Greeks also had fascination with portraiture, mostly in its sculpted form, representing both gods and lay people (who through art were elevated to the status of a deity).  Romans followed a similar tradition borrowing motifs from Ancient Egypt and Greece and developing a flair for portrait busts of key power personalities. Ancient Greek and Romans were also the ones who started the tradition of depicting figure-heads on coins. During the Middles ages portraiture declined and was strictly confined to donor portraits.

The Renaissance saw the re-invention of portraiture in its modern sense and is a pivotal moment in the history of the genre. Predominately portraying royals, nobles, and religious figures, Renaissance portraits concentrated on the status and personality of the sitter through the depiction of objects of characterisation (such as a globe for a well travelled sitter).

Italian painters dominated at the time while the Baroque and Rococo periods saw the predominance of Flemish and Spanish artists. In Britain the early to mid 18th century saw the rise of artists such as Sir Joshua Reynolds with historical portraiture while later on in the 1800s Pre-Raphaelites became the dominant force.

The 19th and early 20th century are characterised by a multiplicity of art movements from the pre- realism, to impressionism, to cubism. Portraits during these times opened up to include the bourgeoisie and many times to include the immediate circle of artists, as well as nameless models.  In the mid 20th century pop art developed a fascination for celebrity portraits, with Andy Warhol as its master, which has continued to the present day. From the ‘60s onwards photography takes over portraiture by the storm, due to its immediacy, developing many different trends.  The 21st century is yet to be defined by a style of portraiture but at Fabulous Noble we believe that contemporary portraits will be defined by new media; much in the same way that the art world has developed.

We believe that the potential for outmost creativity and excellence resides in illustration and design as it is not a saturated field nor has it been perfected by old masters. Illustrators and graphic designers have gained momentum in the past decade and represent the pulse of both the art world and the media world. Fabulous Noble serves as a platform to make their art more accessible to the public. 


By the Fabulous Noble Team.