Portrait Painting | Composition Tips

By Ilaria Rosselli Del Turco

The painting Geneva, which was a finalist for the BP Portrait Award in 2010 at London’s National Portrait Gallery, was completed in one day and was inspired by Italian Renaissance profile portraits in which the head is placed following geometrical principles.

Geneva by Ilaria Rosselli Del Turco

Geneva (oil, 13×9) by Ilaria Rosselli Del Turco

The paint application is allowed quite a bit of freedom, but this profile is painted with an geometric substructure to the composition:

Geneva with geometric substructure

  • The tip of the subject’s nose is placed halfway down the height of the portrait (see line CF).
  • The axis of the composition runs along the diagonal from the top left to the bottom right (line AE), to which the hairline on the side of the face is parallel.
  • The horizontal line (BG) that divides the part of the hair which is lit from the darker portion directly facing us is placed at two-thirds of the height of this piece.
  • I’ve tried to make the back of the head turn on the horizontal line on the middle but it just didn’t look right anatomically. As shown here, the back of the head, her right shoulder and the left side of her collar at the neckline are approximately on the same diagonal (DF).

This selection is adapted from Ilaria Rosselli Del Turco’s blog at ilardt.blogspot.com.

Read an informative article about Ilaria Rosselli Del Turco’s art techniques, including a step-by-step demonstration in The Artist’s Magazine (November 2011).

See some of the artist’s compelling portraits of children.


Ilaria Rosselli Del Turco trained as an illustrator in Rome and Florence, then moved to London, where she studied at the Heatherley School of Fine Art. She paints portraits professionally in England and Italy. She’s had several solo exhibitions in Italy and London, and her work has been included in the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition (2006, 2008, 2009), the Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize (2008, 2009) and the Threadneedle Prize (2011), all in London. Her portrait Geneva was a finalist for the BP Portrait Award in 2010 at London’s National Portrait Gallery.


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