I have always maintained the belief that one cannot possibly define art, I thought the same of portraiture. However, through the selection of my chosen portraits, I noticed a collective theme; the sitters are all distinctly identifiable. I had not chosen one portrait in which the representation of the sitter had appeared in some abstract form, each portrait was a literal interpretation of the subject, serving as a point of reference.
A portrait is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “A painting, drawing, photograph, or engraving of a person, especially one depicting only the face or head and shoulders,” but surely it cannot be so simply defined, summarised in a sentence of no more than 20 ...view middle of the document...
Through my chosen six portraits I will attempt to explore my own personal definition of portraiture, to uncover whether the craft can be defined.
The first of my chosen artworks, is Sandro Botticelli’s Portrait of Giuliano de Medici, painted with tempera and oil on a panel, measuring 76cm by 53 cm, and finished in 1478.
Giuliano was the younger brother of the powerful Lorenzo de Medici, who was just five years the senior of Botticelli. The Medici had long been a ruling family in Florence, as patrons of the arts they sponsored many young artists such as Botticelli. This particular portrait of Giuliano was painted sometime towards the end of his life, either before or shortly after his very public assassination in front of the gathered mass, which was organized by the Pazzi family. The painting therefore is an accurate rendition of Giuliano and was likely commissioned in honour of Lorenzo’s fallen brother.
The motivation behind a portrait plays an important part of its success; this was especially true during the renaissance period. Artists who were commissioned to paint a portrait would generally try to flatter their sitter, and in doing so, hopefully flatter their patron as well. In general, distinctive features would be smoothed out slightly, richer colours would be used to display wealth and status, and symbol which would show viewers that this was a man of magnitude.
In the case of Botticelli’s Portrait of Giuliano de Medici, his portrait served as both in memory of Giuliano, and as warning to other plotting enemies. Botticelli paints him a regal red vest, in a clear and vibrant display of the family’s wealth. The creases help add depth and texture to the painting. He positions him in the classic renaissance position, his body tilted to the side at a ¾ angle. His head is turned so that it silhouettes his distinctive family features. His chin is tilted up slightly, while his mostly closed eyes follow the downward slanting curve of his Medici nose. This gives him an air of lofty ostentation and may serve as another reminder of his status.
However, in light of the context surrounding the commissioning of the portrait, one may argue that this expression portrays Giuliano in an almost saint like pose; the deep-set, downcast eyes emphasizing his suffering and lending strength to the symbolic motifs used by Botticelli. Slight chiaroscuro along his cheek bones and eyes add a depth of darkness and sadness to the painting. Some scholars believe the near closed eyelids support the belief that the portrait was commissioned by Lorenzo sometime shortly after his brother’s death.
In the portrait Giuliano is place skillfully within the frame of a window. In the background, one shutter door of the window is open, granting us view to the blue sky beyond, while the other is closed. To any Florentine alive at the time, this was a clear symbol of death, the open window, a gateway from our world to the next. This thematic symbolism of death is continued...