Baroque Portraits
European Portraiture From the Seventeenth Century.

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Girl With a Pearl Earring (1660)
by Dutch Realist Jan Vermeer.

Self-Portrait (1634) Private Collection
By Anthony van Dyck, one of the
greatest Baroque portraitists.

Baroque Portrait Paintings


Second Most Important Genre
Baroque Portrait Artists
Rise of the Professional Portraitist
Famous Baroque Portrait Paintings

Second Most Important Genre

Art of the Baroque era (c.1600-1700), including portrait art, was driven by several factors. First, the growing commercial strength of Holland, France, Spain, and Britain; second, sponsorship of the visual arts by the Catholic Church in order to heighten its influence during the Counter-Reformation; thirdly, the increased use of portable art media like canvases.

In addition, Baroque portraiture benefited from the enduring influence of the Renaissance. For example in 1669, Andre Felibien, Secretary to the French Académie des Beaux-Arts, annunciated a fixed hierarchy of the genres, which was adopted by most official academies of fine art in Europe.

Felibien ranked paintings according to their subject matter, as follows: (1) History; (2) Portrait; (3) Genre Painting; (4) Landscape; (5) Still Life. This ranking system greatly stimulated competition among portrait painters from Holland, Flanders, France, Spain and Italy.

Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650)
by Spanish Court Painter and
Old Master, Diego Velazquez.
One of the Greatest Portrait Paintings.

Portrait of Agatha Bas (1641) (detail)
British Royal Collection. A gem of
17th century Dutch painting,
by Rembrandt.

Baroque Portrait Artists

Among the foremost Baroque Old Masters of portraiture were: the Dutch Realist Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, whose masterpieces included: The Night Watch or The Militia Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq (1642) and The Syndics of the Cloth-Makers Guild (The Staalmeesters) (1662); the genre-painter and portraitist Jan Vermeer, whose works included: Girl with a Pearl Earring (1660) and Girl with the Red Hat (c.1665); the exuberant Catholic Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens whose portraits included: Helene Fourment in a Fur Wrap (1635-40) Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; Rubens' pupil, the Antwerp painter Anthony van Dyck whose works included Portrait of Charles V on Horseback (1620) and King Charles I of England Out Hunting (1635); the prolific Dutch painter of individual and group portraits Frans Hals whose most famous picture is probably The Laughing Cavalier (1624, Wallace Collection, London).

The Laughing Cavalier (1624)
by Dutch Baroque portraitist
Frans Hals.

Other famous painters of the period include: the Spanish master Diego Velazquez whose masterpieces include: Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650) and his group portrait Las Meninas (1656); the ex-criminal and chiaroscuro (tenebrism) expert Caravaggio whose works include: Boy with Fruit Basket (1593), Young Sick Bacchus (1593), St Jerome (1606); the Neapolitan artist Jose Ribera who painted Portrait of Archimedes (1630) Prado, Madrid; and Giovanni Bernini, whose magnificent sculpture includes the portrait bust Scipione Borghese (1632), considered to be a masterpiece of Baroque portraiture. Nicolas Poussin, the founder of French classical painting and one of the great academic-style artists of the Baroque period, who elevated easel-size works to the status of large-scale istoria (history) painting, executed few if any portraits, except for a small number of self-portraits.

For more information about Baroque painters of the 17th century, in different countries of Europe, see: Italian Baroque Artists and French Baroque Artists. For Spain: Spanish Baroque Artists; for Germany: German Baroque Artists.

For the greatest portraitists
see: Best Portrait Artists.

For a guide to the different forms
of fine and decorative arts,
please see: TYPES OF ART.

Rise of the Professional Portraitist

With the establishment of portraiture as second only to history-painting in the genre hierarchy, many artists turned increasingly to portraits as a more secure way of earning a living. Even in Russia, where serious portraiture did not appear until the era of Petrine art under Peter the Great (1686-1725), it was an important income-earner.

Among the techniques used by these professionals to enhance their artworks, and to elevate the status of the portrait and its subject, were two elements - both reflected in works by Rembrandt. First, the accumulation of figure drawing and figure painting studies depicting facial expressions. This speeded up the painting process and facilitated the depiction of a wider range of human emotions. Several of Rembrandt's self-portraits were executed as finished studies of such expressions. Second, the setting of the portrait in an historical or dramatic context, as exemplified by Rembrandt's The Night Watch.

Famous Baroque Portrait Paintings

El Greco (1541-1614)
Portrait of a Cardinal (1600) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Portrait of Felix Hortensio Paravicino (c.1605) MFA, Boston.

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)
Self-Portrait with Isabella Brant (c.1609) Alte Pinakothek, Munich
The Four Philosophers (c.1612) Palazzo Pitti, Florence
Four Studies of the Head of a Negro (1624) Royal Museums, Brussels
Helene Fourment in a Fur Wrap (1635-40) Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Frans Hals (1582-1666)
The Laughing Cavalier (1625) Wallace Collection, London.

Jusepe (Jose) de Ribera (1591-1652)
Portrait of Archimedes (1630) Prado, Madrid
Saint Paul the Hermit (1640) Prado Museum, Madrid
The Club-Footed Boy (1652) Louvre, Paris

Francisco de Zurbaran (1598-1664)
Portrait of Friar Hernando de Santiago (1633) Academia de San Fernando
St Elizabeth of Portugal (St Casilda of Toledo) (1640) Prado, Madrid

Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641)
Portrait of Charles V on Horseback (1620) Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
Portrait of Cardinal Guido Bentivoglio (1624) Palazzo Pitti, Florence
Equestrian Portrait of Charles I with Seignior de St. Antoine (1633) London
Charles I at the Hunt (1635) Louvre, Paris
Prince of Wales, Future Charles II, King of England (1637) Windsor Castle
Princess Mary Stuart & Prince William of Orange (1641) Rijksmuseum

Diego Velazquez (1599-1660)
Portrait of Pope Innocent X (c.1650) Doria Pamphilj Gallery, Rome
Las Meninas (1656) Prado Museum, Madrid

Rembrandt (1606-69)
The Merchant Nicolaes Ruts (1631) The Frick Collection, New York.
The Anatomy Lesson of Doctor Nicolaes Tulp (1632) Mauritshuis.
Portrait of a Young Woman with the Fan (1632) Nationalmuseum Stockholm.
The Shipbuilder Jan Rijcksen and His Wife Griet Jans (1633) Royal Collection.
Danae (1636) Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia.
Mennonite Preacher Cornelis Claesz Ansloo and his Wife (1641) Berlin.
Portrait of Agatha Bas (1641) Royal Collection, UK.
Old Rabbi (1642) Szepmuveseti Muzeum, Budapest.
The Night Watch (1642) Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Portrait of Hendrickje Stoffels (c.1650) Louvre, Paris.
Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer (1653) Metropolitan Museum, NY.
Bathsheba Holding King David's Letter (1654) Louvre, Paris.
Portrait of Jan Six (1654) The Six Collection, Amsterdam.
Lady with an Ostrich-Feather Fan (1660) National Gallery, Washington DC.
The Syndics of the Clothmakers Guild (1662) Rijksmuseum.
The Jewish Bride (c.1666) Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Suicide of Lucretia (1666) The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN.

Salvator Rosa (1615-73)
Self Portrait as a Philosopher (1641) National Gallery, London

Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1618-82)
Boy with a Dog (1655-60) Hermitage, St Petersburg

Carlo Maratta (Maratti) (1625-1713)
Pope Clement IX (1669) Hermitage, St Petersburg

Jan Vermeer (1632-1675)
Girl with a Red Hat (1665-6) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
Girl with a Pearl Earring (1666) Mauritshuis, The Hague.

Hyacinthe Rigaud (1659-1743)
Louis XIV in Coronation Robes (1701) Louvre, Paris.

The next article covers Rococo/Neo-Classical Portraiture.


• For more about the different types of painting (portraits, landscapes, still-lifes etc) see: Painting Genres.
• For more about Baroque portraiture, see: Homepage.

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