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Portraiture is a representational form of art featuring individual subjects. Historically, the main focus of portraiture has been the visual representation of individual people, distinguished by references to character, social position, wealth, or profession. In its broadest definition, portraiture can include representations of animals (favored pets or prize-winning livestock) or even representations of dwellings and properties.

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Usually portraits are an accurate visual likeness, because the viewer's correct identification of the subject is of the objective however, exact replication is not always the goal. Artists sometimes deliberately alter their sitter's appearance by embellishing or refining their images to emphasize or minimize particular qualities of the individuals portrayed, depending on the intended use of the portrait which are wide-ranging and varied. In the Roman world, for example, portraits of the emperor were required to be present in order for court proceedings to take place. Many societies regard portraits as important ways to convey status and acknowledge power and wealth; during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, portraits of donors were included in works of art as a means of verifying patronage, power, and virtue. Many societies have employed portraits as a means of remembering the dead. During some periods, portraits were severe and emphasized authority, and during other periods artists strived for spontaneity and the sensation of life.

Portraiture can be done in many mediums, including sculpted stone and wood, oil, painted ivory, pastel, encaustic (wax) on woo d panel, tempera on parchment, carved cameo, and hammered or poured metal. Portraits can include only the head, or they can depict the shoulders and head, the upper torso, or an entire figure shown either seated or standing. Portraits can show individuals self-consciously posing, embodied in a timeless posture of full frontality, or captured in the midst of work or daily activity.

Like any work of art, those portraits that are most appreciated exhibit strong composition, refined handling of the material, and appropriate or interesting use of color.

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