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Unit Overview


Tracking the shifting notion of both the citizen and the 'self', this unit explores the complex history of the nineteenth century through the lens of the portrait. By analysing visual representations and their social reception, the unit employs portraiture as both a fulcrum and foil for understanding the role of the individual in nineteenth century society. How does portraiture respond to political and cultural changes? Who is portrayed and for what audience? What is the role of the 'real' in portraiture of the nineteenth century? Implicit in this analysis is a consideration of the artist-as-individual and the personal and political stakes of self-portraiture. The nineteenth century witnessed a dramatic change in the reception and creation of portraits; by analysing the self as the subject, observer and producer of images, the unit explores how the individual evolved from an Enlightenment ideal to a 'modern subject' over the course of the nineteenth century.

6 points
Not available in 2024UWA (Perth)Face to face
Details for undergraduate courses
  • Level 3 option in the History of Art major sequence
  • Level 3 elective

Students are able to (1) analyse the theories and formal conventions of portraiture; (2) articulate how the political and philosophical definition of the individual changed over the course of the nineteenth century in Europe; (3) integrate knowledge about the evolving definition of the individual into an historical and formal analysis of portraiture in the nineteenth century; (4) employ effective research skills, including the use of primary and secondary materials; (5) construct a compelling and well-structured argument in a written paper; (6) demonstrate critical thought and cogent analysis through oral communication; and (7) engage critically with pertinent texts to make historic and theoretical arguments.


Indicative assessments in this unit are as follows: (1) short essay; (2) research paper; and (3) oral assessment. Further information is available in the unit outline.

Student may be offered supplementary assessment in this unit if they meet the eligibility criteria.

Unit Coordinator(s)
Associate Professor Emily Brink
Unit rules
at least one Level 2 unit from the History of Art major sequence
VISA3333 Special Unit: The Shifting Subject: Portraiture in Nineteenth-century Europe
Contact hours
lectures: 2 hours per week
tutorials: 1 hour per week
  • The availability of units in Semester 1, 2, etc. was correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change.
  • All students are responsible for identifying when they need assistance to improve their academic learning, research, English language and numeracy skills; seeking out the services and resources available to help them; and applying what they learn. Students are encouraged to register for free online support through GETSmart; to help themselves to the extensive range of resources on UWA's STUDYSmarter website; and to participate in WRITESmart and (ma+hs)Smart drop-ins and workshops.
  • Unit readings, including any essential textbooks, are listed in the unit outline for each unit, one week prior the commencement of study. The unit outline will be available via the LMS and the UWA Handbook one week prior the commencement of study. Reading lists and essential textbooks are subject to change each semester. Information on essential textbooks will also be made available on the Essential Textbooks. This website is updated regularly in the lead up to semester so content may change. It is recommended that students purchase essential textbooks for convenience due to the frequency with which they will be required during the unit. A limited number of textbooks will be made available from the Library in print and will also be made available online wherever possible. Essential textbooks can be purchased from the commercial vendors to secure the best deal. The Student Guild can provide assistance on where to purchase books if required. Books can be purchased second hand at the Guild Secondhand bookshop (second floor, Guild Village), which is located on campus.
  • Contact hours provide an indication of the type and extent of in-class activities this unit may contain. The total amount of student work (including contact hours, assessment time, and self-study) will approximate 150 hours per 6 credit points.