Medieval Portraiture


Art Educator Sherry Kessler
Warrenville/Jefferson Elementary
January 2002

This is the main lesson for portrait studies during the medieval time period.

"Queen Elizabeth I"  by Nicholas Hillard

She was Queen of England.  Look at how decorated her clothing is and how rich the material looks. 

Notice the style of clothing for royalty.

  • High collar neck
  • puffy slit sleeves
  • small waist
  • large broach on the chest
  • a lot of jewelry
Notice the look of ladies.
  • High forehead
  • Pale skin
  • Thin eyebrows
How to draw in this style
  • use basic shapes like an oval for the face and triangles for the body
  • show face from frontal side view
  • long lines for hands

This is the Lady of Arragon

She was probably wealthy but not royalty.  Let's look at the clues.
  • Rich fabrics for clothes
  • Clothes trimmed in fur
  • large jewelry
  • high forehead
  • thin eyebrows
  • headdress
  • many rings
  • rich tapestry in the background
Her hands are pointing to words, she is holding a quill as if writing, and
a book is open on the table this tells us she is educated.

 How to draw in this style

  • use basic shapes like a circle for the face
  • rectangle for body
  • long lines for fingers


This is a student example from the fifth grade.
He portrayed himself as a medieval knight inside the castle walls.

Notice how his portrait is arranged.

  • He is in the foreground
  • He fills the page
  • He has details like: Chain mail and holes in his shirt

How to draw in this style

  • see above explanations
This is King Henry, he was king of England.  Look at the details and decoration of his clothing.

Let's look at the clues in his portrait.

  • Rich material with fur trim
  • gold details
  • fine feathered hat
  • sword and glove
  • rings
  • how is arms are arranged and his hands are closed
  • the way he is standing with legs apart
  • the room is elaborate with gold drapes and a detailed rug
  • the walls are even textured
Notice the look of men
  • clean cut facial beard
  • high forehead with no hair showing
  • thin eyebrows
  • light colored skin
How to draw in this style
  • basic shapes like squares and rectangles
  • lots of details


This is an example of a real life picture to a painted portrait.  Notice how the model is dressed in common attire and the artist has transformed her into a upper-class lady.

Commoner clues

  • Basic materials for clothes
  • little jewelry
  • informal headdress if one at all
Upper-class clues
  • Fancy material for clothes - designed
  • fur trimmed
  • large broach on chest
  • More Jewelry
How to draw in this style
  • see above explanations

Visit the Medieval Times page
Visit Portrait 2 for more web sites related to this topic.
(January, 2002)
"The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the University of South Carolina."