This resource explores portraiture and art works that represent ‘identity’. It contains starting points for portraiture and identity projects in the classroom, including teacher’s notes about selected works from the Ben Uri collection and suggestions and lesson plans for 2D and 3D activities in the classroom. The activities are suitable for young people of all ages, as they can be delivered at the level appropriate for your students. We suggest that the activities are suitable for Key Stages 2-4.
We can learn lots about the person by looking carefully at the way in which the person/persons have been portrayed. What expression do they have on their face? Are they happy, sad, angry? Are they looking at anything are they drawing our attention to something? How old is the person? What are they wearing? Can we learn anything about the person from their clothing, perhaps where they live or what job they have? Is the subject holding anything?
We might be able to guess the age, gender, height, race, religion, profession, and personality of the person in the portrait. Artists may also produce self-portraits which not only represent themselves, but also comment on other ideas or societal events that have influenced the artist’s life.
Remember, we cannot always take what we see in a portrait to be the truth! Artists sometimes make their subjects look very different to the way that they actually do in real life. Sometimes artists might flatter a person by making them look more important or more beautiful than they really are (this happened often when artists were painting royalty such Kings and Queens) Sometimes an artist might make a negative representation of a person, by making them look mean. Sometimes subjects might dress up in costumes in their paintings or hide behind objects.
We can also learn lots about the subject by looking at what surrounds the portrait. We might be able to tell where the subject is, by looking at the scenery or place shown. We can learn about the person by looking at the relationship between the person and their surroundings, are they very small in the picture- do they dominate the picture? Are they indoors or out? What is the weather like? Are they comfortable/happy in their surroundings? Is the person in a real place, or an imaginary place? Is the person surrounded by objects? Do the objects tell us something about the person? Would you like to be there?
Portraits - Study Questions