Portraits have existed in one form or another since the earliest civilizations. The ancient Egyptians, Chinese, Greeks and Romans all have literary evidence of portraiture but few examples have survived.
The earliest examples of individual portraits in art come from Ancient Rome and are mostly painted with tempera or encaustic on a wooden panel.
Portrait painting, as we understand it today, evolves from the humanistic values of Renaissance art.
Artists create portraits of individuals and groups to express the beauty, status, power, wealth or character of their subjects.
Artists use a wide range of media for portraiture, including drawing, printing, painting, sculpture, photography and multimedia.
Some artists may wish display their artistic skill in capturing an exact likeness of their subject by using a very realistic painting technique.
Some artists may wish to express their subjects inner personality by simplifying or emphasizing the shapes, colours, tones or textures of the portrait for dramatic effect.
Some artists may reduce their subject to abstract elements where the style or expressive power of the image is more important than a physical resemblance to the sitter.
The Self Portrait, which first became popular during the Renaissance, is an intimate and revealing form of the genre.
Albrecht Dürer was the first important artist to produce a range of self portraits that document both his physical and artistic development.
Rembrandt and Vincent Van Gogh are the most prolific painters of self portraits, both producing around forty works that chart their life as an artist.