Shirley Smith

Renaissance Art Historian

Tel. +44 (0)1728 638 271

Email. [email protected]


The Garden House, Bruisyard,

Saxmundham, Suffolk, IP17 2ED

Man the Measure of All Things: The Rise of Portraiture in Renaissance Italy


Today we are so bombarded with images of people we know - or think we know - that we cannot imagine a world where the only faces we recognise are those with whom we have physically come into contact. Yet that was the situation in Medieval Europe when, with power vested in the Church, painting of religious subjects became the main focus of art and the glorification of man was frowned upon.


This all changed with the period we call the Renaissance when, for the first time since antiquity, we see the representation of an individual that can be called 'true to life'.


This, in turn, resulted in the rise of the portrait as we know it today: as a genre in its own right showing a person of flesh and blood, capable of movement, of emotion. Every form and medium was used from the new technique of oil to the bronze and marble of antiquity and, in order to promote the desired image, they ranged from the thought-provoking and truthful to the idealised and, frankly, impossible.

Leonardo da Vinci Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani (Lady with an Ermine) 1483-90

Image source: Web Gallery of Art