Portraits

The function of portrait painting was to underwrite and idealise a chosen social role of the sitter. It was not to present him as ‘an individual’ but, rather, as an individual monarch, bishop, landowner, merchant and so on. Each role had its accepted qualities and its acceptable limit of discrepancy. (A monarch or a pope could be far more idiosyncratic than a mere gentleman or courtier.) The role was emphasised by pose, gesture, clothes and background. (…) The satisfaction of having one’s portrait painted was the satisfaction of being personally recognised and confirmed in one’s position: it had nothing to do with the modern lonely desire to be recognised ‘for what one really is’.

John Berger

The Changing View of Man in the Portrait, 1969