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Similarities and Differences Between Portraiture and Iconography

Updated on July 6, 2020

Similarities and differences between portraiture and iconography


Iconography was typically developed by art historian Erwin Panofsky, as ways of expanding past formal investigation, as well as focusing on the analyzing subject matter within the artwork, explicitly symbols whose meaning is comprehended by individuals and culture within that particular duration. Utilizing iconography within the art analysis enables identification of the fundamental scene of the martyrdom. Conversely, portraiture is deemed to be a visual representation regarding a specific populaces, differentiated through making references to the underlying topic's character, social position, affluence, as well as a profession (Moser, 2018). Moreover, portraitists frequently strive for meticulous visual resemblances. Nevertheless, though the viewer's precise identification of the prevailing sitter for primary significance. Portraitists might intentionally change the appearance of their respective subjects by embellishing their respective images in a bid to decrease specific qualities regarding the subject.

Similarities amidst portraiture and iconography

The paradoxes of the similarity amidst the portraiture and iconography lie at the center of the photographic portraits. A photograph can never really capture anything essential concerning individuals within the photographs. More frequently what is viewed is robustly swayed by the context, based on the individuals' biases as well as preferences of the photographer (Murray, 2015). Nevertheless, portraiture and iconography converge in producing the emotionally and spiritually that normally create truth within the portraits. Moreover, portraiture and iconography are also linked to the individuals' basic humanity that is the way people view and perceive that can be reconciled with the outside view.

The traditional oil painting is a depiction of both portraiture and iconography, which normally make them authentic. The portraiture and iconography are identical, and it is noteworthy despite possessing a variety of different self-portraits by diverse artists.

Both portraiture and iconography utilize the standpoint as well as light to develop a more photorealistic portrait in creating depth as well as form in terms of paintings. Iconography normally refers to the historical documentation via the utilization of the imagery. Portraiture is deemed significant aspect regarding the image documentation, and thus within the archeological circles, the term iconography is utilized in denoting the study of the historical portraiture, which by its existing nature is meticulously linked with numismatics (Moser, 2018). Nevertheless, regarding the art historian iconography commonly refers to the explanation of an image as well as representation; and the terminology is utilized in the description of the independent work of the art regarding the designation of the entire representations of the single subject matter

Both portraiture and iconography have similarities since Iconography, in essence, is also deemed to be a collection of the portraits through a very creative portrait artist. In a bid to comprehend the Iconography, an individual ought to comprehend the nature of the underlying portrait as a genre that is utilized in oil painting (Song et al., 2016). Portraits are normally deemed to be a very specific kind of painting as the landscape as well as historical painting. Moreover, the portrait had a specific language about the signs as well as the symbols used alongside a realistic and creating an image acting as a person's identity coupled with the status.

Portraiture tends towards expressing personality as well as individuality utilizing portraits and both iconography and portraiture in depicting social status. Conventionally, portraits aided in constructing the identity via the usage of signs as well as symbols, which permitted the viewer to effortlessly identify the underlying status and occupation of an individual (Murray, 2015). The iconography also takes the tradition of the portrait painting to an innovative level through altering both medium and audience. The propagative nature of the print meant that their respective dissemination is deemed to be of great significance compared to mere painting.

Iconography shares similarities portraiture in terms of interpreting signs on both a denotive as well as a connotative level. Iconography is typically utilized within the analysis works emanating from the past, typically Western figurative images ranging from the 16th to the corresponding 18th centuries. While portraiture is more often utilized to investigate more modern visual culture such as advertising. Whereas individual printed portraits, in essence, deemed to be pure gratitude of the genre of portraiture. The people normally contained within its pages varied regarding the status and occupation. Artists are commonly depicted by the subjects of the portraits in illustrating a specific agenda, which correspondingly results in the elevation of their respective status (Song et al., 2016). This is normally undertaken by both portraiture and iconography in numerous prints on contemporary matters.

Both the genre of portraiture and iconography have benefits and disadvantages regarding the oil as well as printed forms. Traditional painting is deemed as an immediate elevation of the art form, which permits for a depth of the color and tone as well as realism that is practically impossible to recreate within a print.

Traditional oil painting permitted the implementation of the numerous artist's study by enabling showcasing of the paint as well as the beautiful costumes which manifested within the sumptuous fabrics worn within every portrait. It also permitted in bringing a lifelikeness to the underlying portraits that are not always as evident within the monochrome prints as can be seen with the portraiture and iconography (Wilson, 2016). Both portraiture and iconography genre in terms of the portrait aided in the linking of the relationships with identity, status as well as a commemoration. In essence, the portrait print in both portraiture and iconography was deemed to be the definitive portrait in creating the ability to imitate reality through color.

Another benefit of the portraiture and iconography regarding the printed portrait is that it is usually accompanied by a caption, which permits the identification of the sitter, most by usually name as well as occupation. While the prints of the portraiture typically contained visual cues in terms of the occupation of the sitter, the addition of the iconography aids in offering a fundamental textual explanation in a bid to ensure that the individuals within the print are depicted appropriately. Moreover, this is considered to be a chief element of motivation in terms of commemoration when the portrait is being commissioned.

Differences amidst portraiture and iconography

Portraiture provides another means of undertaking an analysis of the images found within the artwork as well as another kind of visual culture such as advertising. Portraiture is deemed to be the study of the signs. Within portraiture, the fundamental unit is deemed to be the sign. Moreover, signs are the representations that possess meanings past what they factually represent (Wilson, 2016). Signs can be portrayed in terms of visual and auditory form as a fundamental language and sounds. Portraits are ubiquitous, not just within art. Portraiture provides a means of breaking an image into its underlying constituent segments and tracing the way they associate with each other, and supplementary systems in terms of meaning.

The renaissance of the portraiture was thus a noteworthy demonstration of the Renaissance within Europe (Song et al., 2016). Moreover, the conventional aspects of the portraiture aids in ensuring that every example bears a certain similarity to the next, and makes the characteristic qualities of everyone the more noticeable.

Within portraiture, the image itself is considered to be the focus and the most significant site in terms of meaning. The signs within an image are typically assessed into dual sections, namely signified as well as a signifier. Moreover, the signified is considered to be the concept of the representation stands. For instance, within a photograph having a baby in it, the baby is typically the signifier and certain supplementary that makes the picture of the baby.

Portraiture can possess denotative as well as connotative meanings that are the association to the supplementary signs, which like to relatively broader systems of the meaning that are deemed to be possessing conventionalized meanings that are shared through particular groups of individuals and cultures commonly as codes. Since the underlying signs can frequently have numerous meanings, unpacking their respective meanings wholly to be extremely complex. Icons chiefly bear an exact close visual association to the substance they represent. Moreover, an icon of a woman might typically be a photograph of the real woman. An indexical icon points to the thing it depicts certain associations to the thing it signifies. Iconography is deemed to be a subdivision of art history that studies the identification, depiction, as well as the analysis of the existing content of the images (Song et al., 2016). It depicts specific compositions as well as details utilized and supplementary elements that are distinct from the artistic style.

Unlike portraiture, iconography represents images developed by humans, as well as the fundamental ideas within the history of ideas. Iconography has altered significantly from its underlying prime relationship with the representational, and they are utilized in supporting the new fields about the research at the crossroads of the disciplinary studies (Danielyan, 2016). Portraiture is applied to the nonvisual as well as in the studies utilizing the textual, aural, as well as verbal material, which possesses an extended meaning. Within the field of prevalent research as well as computerization, portraiture and iconography is the most widely utilized field of the review section emanating from the artist.

Both portraiture and iconography on function on numerous different levels, from the descriptive to corresponding cultural and symbolic, and are applied to the relatively broader relational framework of the underlying content. Though the majority of the art-historical research is supported in numerous forms by portraiture and iconography, they typically deal solely with the historical enlargement of the concept, the methodology utilized within their classification, coupled with certain modern trends.

The renaissance of the portraiture was thus a noteworthy demonstration of the Renaissance within Europe. Moreover, the conventional aspects of the portraiture aids in ensuring that every example bears a certain similarity to the next, and makes the characteristic qualities of everyone the more noticeable.

The personifications are designated in terms of human forms with their respective attributes and typically pose clear delineation. Images play a relatively greater role with the underlying consequent as well as the irretrievable relationship of portraiture and iconography and the corresponding art of history. Moreover, portraiture and iconography are widely utilized in a specific orientation to visual (typically portraits) at the expense of textual material (Danielyan, 2016). Although the terminologies had been utilized since the late fifteenth century, they became popular at the commencement of the seventeenth century for its underlying specific reference to the corresponding architectural subjects.

Portraiture and iconography result massively from the different fundamental establishment regarding the art history in the enhancement of the photographic reproductions, coupled with relatively greater accessibility of the images. Portraiture is applied to large-scale assortments of the visual resources available for the study of specific themes and subjects. Thus, both portraiture and iconography are utilized in the determination of the date, style as well as the broader socio-cultural situation of the work (Danielyan, 2016). Unlike portraiture, iconography remains to be within the province of the art-historical universe and is utilized about the corresponding textual, musical, political, religious, theatrical, and dramatic studies based on the visual material within this very field. They were highly reliant on the requirement to establish textual assistance for subject matter in terms of the characteristic facets.

In terms of art analysis, iconography is deemed to be a kind of visual communication utilizing the image to represent something. They are generally utilized within the analysis of the works of art, associating sources as well as meanings.


Portraiture and iconography are deemed a nuanced genre regarding painting that is linked intricately to the artist's sense, which is communicated through the painter. The capability to capture the personality of the individuals is typically deemed to be unmatched in printed portraits in portraiture and iconography. The power of the portrait in communicating a message as well as commemorating an individual via portraiture and iconography offers to curate the identity of the artists.


Danielyan, I. (2016). Master Momik: an Architect, Sculptor and Miniaturist (On Iconographic Features of Some of His Artworks). The Actual Problems of History and Theory of Art, 6, 150-157.

Duncan, C. (2016). Henry Purcell and the construction of identity: iconography, heraldry and the Sonnata’s of III Parts (1683). Early Music, 44(2), 271-288.

Moser, S. (2018). Ancestral images: the iconography of human origins. Cornell University Press.

Murray, J. K. (2015). Confucian Iconography. In Modern Chinese Religion I (2 vols.) (pp. 801-843). Brill.

Song, Y. N., Lee, H. H., Chung, Y. J., & Lee, H. Y. (2016). Comparison of Painting Characteristics on Portraits by Nondestructive Analysis of Joseon Dynasty in 18 th Century-Focusing on Yu Eon-ho's Portrait. Journal of Conservation Science, 32(1), 89-100.

Wilson, C. (2016). Beyond the Mask: Strategic Symbolism in the Rainbow Portrait. CLA Journal, 4, 219-232.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Michael Omolo


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