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Gallery VII: Reflections

Refections: Portraits from the 16th to the 18th century

Portrait painting became popular in Western art in the 16th century. It was usually just the rich, upper classes who had their portraits painted because it was so expensive. People often commissioned portraits to show off their status. The works contain clues which reveal more about the person in the painting.

In the same way that today’s celebrity photographs are often airbrushed, these portraits showed an idealised version of the sitter. People were keen to show they were dedicated followers of fashion, through their clothes, hairstyles or choice of artist. Portrait painters often worked with a team of assistants. The lead artist sometimes only painted the face of the sitter, leaving the assistants to finish the painting. They would each specialise in a particular area such as the drapery or background landscape.

Visitors will see several highlights from the portrait collection, including Peter Lely Margaret Brooke, Lady Denham (about 1664) and George Romney's Portrait of Edward Wortley Montagu M.P. (about 1775).