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Art Through Time: A Global View

Portraits Compare: How Can a Portrait Make a Broader Social Statement?

Equestrian Portrait of the Count-Duke Olivares

Equestrian Portrait of the Count-Duke Olivares
Artist / Origin: Kehinde Wiley (American, b. 1977).
Region: North America
Date: 2005
Period: 1900 CE – 2010 CE
Material: Oil on canvas
Medium: Painting
Dimensions: H: 108 in. (274 cm.), W: 108 in. (274 cm.)
Location: Rubell Family Collection, Miami, FL
Credit: Photo courtesy of the Kehinde Wiley Studio, New York. © Kehinde Wiley

Don Gaspar de Guzmán (1587–1645), Count-Duke of Olivares

Don Gaspar de Guzmán (1587–1645), Count-Duke of Olivares
Artist / Origin: Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (Spanish, 1599–1660)
Region: Europe
Date: ca. 1635
Period: 1400 CE – 1800 CE
Material: Oil on canvas
Medium: Painting
Dimensions: H: 50 ¼ in. (127.6), W: 41 in. (104.1 cm).
Location: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Credit: Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fletcher Fund

How can a portrait make a broader social statement?

Throughout history, portraits have often borrowed elements from earlier works of art. Sometimes this was the artist’s way of demonstrating his or her own skill. Often it was a way of imbuing the new image with some added meaning. For instance, if the heir to the throne was depicted in the same pose and with the same props as his or her predecessor, the portrait might act as a symbol of dynastic continuity. On the other hand, if an individual overthrew the sitting ruler and then appropriated elements of that ruler’s portrait, the message sent was quite different. In basing his painting on one by the seventeenth-century painter Velázquez, contemporary artist Kehinde Wiley makes his own unique statement.

Questions to Consider

  • What elements does Wiley’s painting borrow from Velázquez’s? What elements are different? Why do you think Wiley chose to adopt certain aspects of the earlier work and not others? How do the two works differ in overall effect as a result?
  • When Velázquez painted the Count-Duke of Olivares, he was drawing on a long history of equestrian portraiture. How does the Count-Duke’s portrait fit into that tradition? How does Kehinde Wiley’s work engage that tradition and to what end?
  • Obviously, knowledge of Velázquez’s image enriches the meaning of Wiley’s. But what impact, if any, does knowledge of Wiley’s portrait have on the way you look at Velázquez’s?

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Art Through Time: A Global View


Produced by THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG. 2009.
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  • ISBN: 1-57680-888-2