This essay postulates a field theory of the portrait, one capable of explaining both portrait objects and the forces to which they were subject. It does so not with the intention of celebrating theoretical mastery, but to facilitate three comparatively modest claims: first, that eighteenth-century portraiture was, and always has been, a vibrant conglomeration of disparate portrait types, in which knowledge of any one type encouraged knowledge of the whole; second, that the objects themselves made frequent reference to the generic and media networks of which they were a part; and third, that many contemporary viewers became adept at negotiating these networks and were motivated to do so by the larger cultural demands that portraiture served.

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