The broad time span covered by this exhibition (1400-1600) and its Europe-wide approach make it the first to provide an overview of Renaissance portraiture. It explores portraiture as a genre in its own right, focusing principally on painting but including medals, sculptures, drawings and engravings while leaving aside the donor portrait.
The exhibition reveals two constant features in the evolution of the Renaissance portrait. The first is its “democratisation”, as although portraiture was initially reserved for the privileged clsses, it eventually embraced the whole social spectrum. The second is an increase in size as a result of portraits becoming
incorporated into the decoration of interiors. The earliest examples were designed to be viewed and stored away in chests, not to be hung on walls.
In demand from very heterogeneous sectors of society, portraits served diverse purposes and acquired a social, symbolic and even documentary dimension that gave rise to an extraordinary variety of types. The exhibition includes portraits of individuals proclaiming their intellectual pursuits, social aspirations and religious devotion; portraits designed to seduce, attack or convince; portraits as impressive images of power; and portraits that illusionistically project the sitter beyond the picture plane or distort the image.
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