Picturing the family
Picturing the family

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Picturing the family

Activity 2

Click on 'View document' below to open and read the remainder of Audrey Linkman's article on 'Photography and art theory', then answer the questions.

View document [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Activity 2a

What was regarded as the most important element of the portrait?


The portrait was perceived as more than a mere map of physical features. Its purpose was to reveal the inner soul and true character of the sitter. This added a moral and spiritual dimension to the portrait. It also conferred prestige and status on a profession that could claim the ability to fathom the inner recesses of the mind and reproduce character on canvas.

Activity 2b

How did the theory of idealization affect this important element?


Only positive qualities that reflected credit upon the sitter could be portrayed in the painting. The depiction of base qualities would conflict with the need to idealize the sitter. Consequently any attempt to portray character would be limited to the depiction of virtuous qualities. (I shall subsequently refer to this practice as ‘limited positive characterization’.)

In addition, it was thought that the viewer would be corrupted by the depiction of faults and vices in a painting. By looking at virtue in others the viewer might be inspired to moral improvement. In the early 19th century few people questioned the belief that the purpose of art was to inspire and ennoble.


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