AskDefine | Define portrait

Dictionary Definition



1 a painting of a person's face
2 a word picture of a person's appearance and character [syn: portrayal, portraiture]
3 any likeness of a person; "the photographer made excellent portraits" [syn: portrayal]

User Contributed Dictionary

see Portrait


Alternative spellings


From Middle French portraict, pourtraict, noun use of the past participle of portraire ‘portray’.


  • /ˈpɔːtɹeɪt/


  1. A painting or other picture of a person, especially the head and shoulders.
  2. An accurate depiction of a mood.
    The author painted a good portrait of urban life in New York in his latest book.

Derived terms


painting of a person
  • Breton: poltred
  • Croatian: portret
  • Czech: portrét
  • Dutch: portret
  • Finnish: muotokuva, potretti
  • French: portrait
  • German: Portrait, Porträt
  • Greek: προσωπογραφία, πορτραίτο
  • Hungarian: arckép
  • Romanian: portret
  • Slovenian: portret
an accurate depiction of a mood
  • Croatian: portret
  • German: Portrait, Porträt
  • Greek: πορτραίτο


portrait (uncountable)
  1. computing printing: a print mode or selection specifying the rectangle to be printed on having the vertical sides longer than the horizontal sides.






fr-noun m

Extensive Definition

A portrait is a painting, photograph, sculpture, or other artistic representation of a person, in which the face and its expression is predominant. The intent is to display the likeness, personality, and even the mood of the person. For this reason, in photography a portrait is generally not a snapshot, but a composed image of a person in a still position. A portrait often shows a person looking directly at the painter or photographer, in order to most successfully engage the subject with the viewer.
Some of the earliest portraits of people who were not kings or emperors, are the funeral portraits that survived in the dry climate of Egypt's Fayum district. These are the only paintings of the Roman period that have survived, aside from frescos.
The art of the portrait flourished in Roman sculptures, where sitters demanded realistic portraits, even unflattering ones. During the 4th century, the portrait began to retreat in favor of an idealized symbol of what that person looked like. (Compare the portraits of Roman Emperors Constantine I and Theodosius I at their entries.) In Europe true portraits of the outward appearance of individuals re-emerged in the late Middle Ages, in Burgundy and France.
One of the best-known portraits in the Western world is Leonardo da Vinci's painting titled Mona Lisa, which is a painting of an unidentified woman. The world's oldest known portrait was found in 2006 by a local pensioner, Gérard Jourdy, in the Vilhonneur grotto near Angoulême and is thought to be 27,000 years old.


When the artist creates a portrait of him- or herself, it is called a self-portrait. Identifiable examples become numerous in the late Middle Ages, but if the definition is extended the first was by the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten's sculptor Bak, who carved a representation of himself and his wife Taheri c. 1365 BC. However, it seems likely that self-portraits go back to the earliest representational art, and literature records several classical examples, now lost.

Portrait photography

Portrait photography is a popular commercial industry all over the world. Many people enjoy having professionally made family portraits to hang in their homes, or special portraits to commemorate certain events, such as graduations or weddings. Since the dawn of photography, people have made portraits. The popularity of the daguerreotype in the middle of the 19th century was due in large part to the demand for inexpensive portraiture. Studios sprang up in cities around the world, some cranking out more than 500 plates a day. The style of these early works reflected the technical challenges associated with 30-second exposure times and the painterly aesthetic of the time. Subjects were generally seated against plain backgrounds and lit with the soft light of an overhead window and whatever else could be reflected with mirrors.
As photographic techniques developed, an intrepid group of photographers took their talents out of the studio and onto battlefields, across oceans and into remote wilderness. William Shew's Daguerreotype Saloon, Roger Fenton's Photographic Van and Mathew Brady's What-is-it? wagon set the standards for making portraits and other photographs in the field.


In politics, portraits of the leader are often used as a symbol of the state. In most countries it is common protocol for a portrait of the head of state to appear in important government buildings. Excessive use of a leader's portrait can be indicative of a personality cult.


In literature the term portrait refers to a written description or analysis of a person or thing. A written portrait often gives deep insight, and offers an analysis that goes far beyond the superficial. For example, American author Patricia Cornwell wrote a best-selling book titled Portrait of a Killer about the personality, background, and possible motivations of Jack the Ripper, as well as the media coverage of his murders, and the subsequent police investigation of his crimes.


External links

portrait in Arabic: بورتريه
portrait in Bulgarian: Портрет
portrait in Czech: Portrét
portrait in German: Porträt
portrait in Spanish: Retrato
portrait in Esperanto: Portreto
portrait in French: Portrait
portrait in Galician: Retrato
portrait in Croatian: Portret
portrait in Icelandic: Andlitsmynd
portrait in Italian: Ritratto
portrait in Hebrew: דיוקן
portrait in Georgian: პორტრეტი
portrait in Lithuanian: Portretas
portrait in Hungarian: Arckép
portrait in Dutch: Portret
portrait in Japanese: 肖像
portrait in Polish: Portret
portrait in Portuguese: Retrato
portrait in Russian: Портрет
portrait in Albanian: Portreti
portrait in Sicilian: Ritrattu
portrait in Simple English: Portrait
portrait in Slovak: Portrét
portrait in Slovenian: Portret
portrait in Serbian: Портрет
portrait in Finnish: Muotokuva
portrait in Swedish: Porträtt
portrait in Thai: ภาพเหมือน
portrait in Chinese: 肖像画

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Telephoto, Wirephoto, account, aerial photograph, black-and-white photograph, cameo, candid photograph, catalog, cataloging, certified copy, character, character sketch, characterization, cheesecake, chronophotograph, color photograph, color print, companion, copy, counterfeit, dead ringer, delineation, depiction, description, details, diapositive, dossier, double, duplicate, ectype, effigy, evocation, exact likeness, fair copy, faithful copy, fake, fellow, file, forgery, graphic account, head, heliochrome, heliograph, icon, idol, image, imagery, imitation, impression, itemization, likeness, limning, living image, living picture, match, mate, miniature, mirroring, model, montage, mug, mug shot, particularization, pasticcio, pastiche, phony, photo, photobiography, photochronograph, photograph, photomap, photomicrograph, photomontage, photomural, picture, picturization, pinup, portraiture, portrayal, profile, record, reflection, rendering, rendition, representation, resemblance, ringer, rubbing, semblance, shadow, shot, silhouette, similitude, simulacrum, sketch, slide, snap, snapshot, specification, spit, spit and image, spitting image, still, still photograph, story, study, telephotograph, thumbnail sketch, trace, tracing, transparency, twin, very image, very picture, vignette, vivid description, word painting
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