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Portraiture in England in the Long Eighteenth Century


  • Credit value: 15 credits at Level 6
  • Convenor: Dr Robert Maniura
  • Assessment: a 3000-word essay (100%)

Module description

In this module we explore the most flourishing and persistently popular genre of art in eighteenth-century England: portraiture. We will begin by discussing various strategies and approaches to portraits in general, and consider the history of the genre in England prior to the late seventeenth century. We then explore the main developments of the period 1688-1832.

Sessions will focus on key artists and types of portraiture, and consider the production and display of portraits in eighteenth-century England, unpicking:

  • the business practices of the most successful portraitists of the day
  • the impact of the rise of exhibitions and the expansion of the print market
  • the display of portraiture within the home, particularly the country house.

We then take a more overtly thematic approach, exploring various modes of portraiture across the entire period. We will look at representations of certain types of prominent individual - members of the royal family, actors and actresses, the naval or military hero, for example - and consider representations of family groups, and changes in the portrayal of children over the course of the century. We will look at the miniature and portraits produced for eighteenth-century male societies such as the Kit-Kat club. A session on self-portraiture will consider the fascinating complexities arising from the artistic gaze being turned upon the self.

We end with a class based at the National Portrait Gallery.

Indicative syllabus

  • The business of portraiture
  • The conversation piece
  • Exhibiting portraiture
  • Joshua Reynolds and the historical portrait
  • Thomas Gainsborough and the art of sensibility
  • Actors and actresses
  • The hero
  • The English abroad
  • The 'new child'
  • Self-portraiture