The Portrait: How Do We See Ourselves?

Art History

Course Description

The person portrayed, and the portrait are two entirely different things.—José Ortega y Gasset. 

What do portraits tell us about artists, people, places, and historical periods? What can we learn from them? How have they shaped how we see and understand ourselves? 

This course will examine the changing face of the portrait in art history. We will look at how and why the portrait’s meaning and function have changed over the years and why artists are still drawn to this genre. What is the meaning of “likeness”? How do artists go about trying to convey immaterial qualities such as the spirit, the soul, and the character of a being? How do they infuse portraits with originality? 

We will look at how self-portraits, by the likes of Albrecht Dürer, might possess their own inherent challenges, meanings, and unique idiosyncrasies. We will examine questions such as whether a still life can be a portrait, as in the case of the Vanitas. How and why did portraits so often intend to convey status and power? In what manner and with what relevance has aging been portrayed? In addition, we will discuss topics such as the intent and significance of the family portrait.

Furthermore, what effect did photography and its instantaneity have on the tradition of portraiture? These investigations will be enhanced by a guided visit of the upcoming Diane Arbus exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Books to Purchase (will be available at Argo Bookshop during the weeks prior to the course beginning):

    • Portraiture by Shearer West (9780192842589)

Please note that this course has a maximum enrollment of 14 students.

NEW PAYMENT POLICY: Participants must pay the course fees in order to be considered registered for the course. 

For fully registered courses, a waiting list will be created. Should vacancies develop, those on the waiting list will be contacted on a first-come, first-served basis.

Please note that we do not allow participants to audit courses for free.

Course Details

Location: Zoom

First Session: Monday 19 September 2022

Course Length: 12 weeks, Mondays, 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.

Discussion Team: Martin Baenninger, Linda Benguigui, Catherine Bérubé

Degree Credit: 3.0 credits

Course Fee:

$150.00 (standard tuition)
$100.00 (promotion for new students)

Administrative Fee:



$185.00 (standard tuition)
$135.00 (promotion for new students)

Course fees are refundable in full before the second session. After the second session, a fee of $50 for the withdrawal will be applied. Refunds will not be issued after the third session. Please note that non-attendance does not constitute a withdrawal.

Students pursuing studies for credit are encouraged to consult with their advisers as they register for courses.

Course leaders, and students wishing to use credit vouchers, should call (514) 935-9585 to pay by phone or to schedule an appointment to pay in person.

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