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Martin Luther King, Jr.
Harlem Renaissance

What is the history of portraits in Renaissance?

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November 23, 2014 8:36AM

In ancient Egypt, stone sculpture and painted reliefs of couples furnished the tombs of the elite. Standing or seated, idealized and youthful, they were created for eternal togetherness (48.111). In the more recent art of sub-Saharan Africa, figures of couples, usually carved in wood, are abstracted in ways that symbolize the continuity of the community and the ideas of fertility and abundance (1997.394.15).

Images of Greek gods as couples or pairs are often shown in passionate encounters involving tensions between divine and mortal lovers (49.7.16). Biblical and classical images of couples illustrate moralizing tales such as that of a righteous man who is diverted from his goals by a seductive female (1975.1.1416). Legendary lovers, restrained in their amorous actions by sumptuous clothing, are favorite subjects for illustrated pages of royal books commissioned by Persian kings(50.164). The sculptural forms of South Asian deities are remarkably sensual: slim, lithe males and rounded, voluptuous females are metaphors for divine fertility, auspiciousness, and power (1987.218.1).

In Renaissance Europe, portrait paintings of elegantly dressed couples reflect the importance of high-status marriages at royal courts and among the powerful new merchant classes (89.15.19). With the emergence of middle classes in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, there was a growing interest in home and family. Artists were commissioned to portray couples in poses suggesting affection and admiration