Art Through Time: A Global View
Portraits Compare: What Does “likeness” Mean?
What does “likeness” mean?
The notion that likeness means an accurate representation of individual facial features in a realistic mode is an idea that is very much rooted in Western European tradition and one that did not gain widespread currency until the Renaissance. In their own ways, both the terracotta portrait head and Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein demand that we reconsider what a likeness might be, and in the process, question our assumptions about what portraiture is.
Questions to Consider
- Neither the terracotta head nor Gertrude Stein offers a likeness in the expected sense. Do you think “likeness” is a useful term for talking about these images? Why or why not?
- Given that these images do not precisely replicate the physical features of their subjects, do you think they qualify as “portraits”? In what sense?
- What does each of these images suggest about the function(s) it was intended to fulfill in its original context? How do you think that function has changed over time?