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Art Through Time: A Global View

Portraits Compare: Why Make More Than One Copy of a Portrait?

Portrait Head

Portrait Head
Artist / Origin: Moche artist, Peru
Region: South America
Date: ca. 200–800 CE
Period: 1 CE – 500 CE
Material: Clay with paint
Medium: Ceramics
Credit: Photo © David Bernstein Fine Art, New York, NY

Diane von Furstenberg

Diane von Furstenberg
Artist / Origin: Andy Warhol (American, 1928–1987)
Region: North America
Date: 1974
Period: 1900 CE – 2010 CE
Material: Screenprint
Medium: Prints, Drawings, and Photography
Credit: © Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo courtesy of Diane von Furstenberg and the Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts

Why make more than one copy of a portrait?

Today, the use of digital cameras makes it possible for us to produce infinite copies of our portraits, while programs such as Photoshop allow us to restyle those portraits to our hearts’ content. But the desire to replicate and alter portraits is in no way a twenty-first-century phenomenon. Throughout world history, people have sought ways to do these very things. However, as the Moche terracotta heads and Warhol’s silkscreen portraits demonstrate, their reasons have not always been the same.

Questions to Consider

  • Both the Moche artist and Warhol used techniques that allowed them to create multiple versions of the same portrait. What do you think appealed to each artist about this reproducibility? What does the potential for mass production suggest about the function of each portrait type?
  • Paradoxically, although the Moche artist and Warhol both employed techniques for replicating their portraits, neither would have been satisfied with two portraits that were identical. How did these artists ensure that each portrait they produced was unique? What value might this individualization of images have had for the artists or their patrons/subjects?
  • Think about places that you see portraits mass-produced in your own culture. What purpose do these images serve? How do they compare to the examples given here?

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Art Through Time: A Global View


Produced by THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG. 2009.
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