The portrait in western art has been the traditional format for the exploration of human personality since the Italian Renaissance. Through the artist's choice of clothes, pose, and setting, the individual's high position in society was affirmed; the artist's handling of media and style captured a likeness that flattered the sitter.
In modern and contemporary art, the examination of individual identity has been a major theme that expands upon the traditional portrait to include imagined beings, symbolic figures, and specific people from all aspects of society. The modern and contemporary "portrait" probes deeply below the surface. It seeks to reveal and comment upon human character shaped by personal biography and by race, ethnicity, and gender. Individual identity is also associated with the traditional self-portrait: the artist's own image as a vehicle for personal reflections.
The conventional portrait is realist in style, the artist seeking true physical appearances. If modern and contemporary studies of human personality may be realist in style, they also utilize expressionist, abstract, and conceptual styles.