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Joshua Reynolds: Portraiture in Action


This module will offer a detailed analysis of the portrait paintings produced by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), widely regarded as the leading exponent of this pictorial genre in eighteenth-century England. Different seminars will focus on the various types of portraiture produced by Reynolds, and - through close readings of selected paintings - will explore the particular characteristics, functions and appeal of his work. In addressing Reynolds's portraiture, the module will discuss his work's complex engagement with issues of gender, race, urbanity and aristocratic identity, and place his output in the context of the portraiture being produced by his contemporaries. The module will also investigate the ways in which his portraits' meanings were shaped by the different spaces in which they were displayed, and by their frequent afterlife as graphic images.


By the end of the module students should have acquired the following:

  • an in-depth knowledge of Reynolds' work
  • an informed knowledge of eighteenth-century British portraiture
  • sophisticated sense of the workings and ambitions of portraiture as a pictorial genre
Cupid as a Link Boy, oil on canvas, 76 x 63.2 cm, c1773, by Joshua Reynolds

Module information

  • Module title
    Joshua Reynolds: Portraiture in Action
  • Module number
  • Convenor
    Mark Hallett

For postgraduates