A well-conceived and well-executed portrait can reach across the centuries and provide us with a direct human connection with the past. No matter how remote in time or place, or how famous or little-known the sitters or artists might be, portraits retain the power to enthrall.
Among the themes of western art, portraiture is perhaps the most engaging.

The thirty paintings and one sculpture exhibited here trace the various modes of European portraiture from the late fifteenth to the early nineteenth century. The exhibition includes a range of portrait types, from informal head studies to idealized representations of historical figures, from official paintings intended for public display to private images of family members and friends. This variety demonstrates the range of functions a portrait might embrace: capturing a likeness for posterity, evoking character, memorializing a public persona, conjuring a historical figure, or standing in for an absent loved one. In each case, a portrait's special magic derives from the fact that it brings us eye to eye with a beautiful, mysterious, or fascinating face from long ago.

This exhibition was organized by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. All of the portraits are on loan from a private collection.

Alessandro Allori (Italian, 1535–1607), Portrait of a Young Woman, c. 1580s. Oil on canvas, 27 1/8 x 22 1/2 in (68.9 x 57.2 cm). Private collection. Photo by Glenn Castellano.
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