Picturing the family
Picturing the family

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Picturing the family

3 The portrait tradition: ideology

3.1 Introducing ideology in portraiture

Figure 9
Image 9 Photographer/Painter: French School. Subject: Portrait of a nobleman seated at a desk, c.1750.

Portraiture emerged as the first major commercial application of photography because the camera could mechanize an established and profitable market in hand-crafted likenesses. By the early 19th century, most sectors of society had acquired the habit of buying portraits. Working people purchased penny profiles or silhouettes cut from black paper, the comfortable classes acquired miniatures of watercolours on ivory, and the rich commissioned their portraits in oils. Portrait photography retained this leading position until the end of the century.

The tradition of hand-painted portraiture in Europe dates back at least as far as the Renaissance. By 1839 painters had evolved a sophisticated professional rhetoric about the role of the portrait and the nature of the artist's interaction with the sitter. Clients, too, had expectations and attitudes based on existing practice. In mechanizing the likeness trade, early photographers were confronted with a ready-made set of ideas about the portrait and its purpose. Let's explore how photography responded to these ideas.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus