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Thread: Portraits and their lives

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    Portraits and their lives

    Okay, I have a great idea about writing how a portrait got its start, but I really need some help in that- how do they come about? Is there a spell that allows portraits to be able to move around and talk and have all of those memories that their living counterparts had? And in the headmasters' room, do the portraits just suddenly appear on the wall when the headmaster dies, or does someone put up an existing portrait of said headmaster? Anyone with information, or even speculation, please help!
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    The portraits in Hogwarts seem to have a spell on them. You can make up what ever spell you want for that. The headmaster portraits just appear in the office. But I have no idea. Dumbledore's portrait seems to just show up, though, in HBP.
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    This is pure headcanon, so take it with a grain of salt, but I had always assumed that the portrait needed to be painted while the person was alive and magically linked to the subject, and then the portrait became animated upon the subject's death and obtained the subject's memories and personality. Thus why we see no portraits of people who are still alive, and why a portrait of Dumbledore could "just appear" -- it was already prepared before his death and was ready when he died.

    I imagine this limitation because if you can create a living portrait after a subject's death, what's to stop the remaining Death Eaters from creating a portrait of Voldemort after he died? Granted, a portrait Voldemort wouldn't be able to do much.

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    I had always assumed that the portrait needed to be painted while the person was alive and magically linked to the subject, and then the portrait became animated upon the subject's death and obtained the subject's memories and personality. Thus why we see no portraits of people who are still alive, and why a portrait of Dumbledore could "just appear" -- it was already prepared before his death and was ready when he died.
    That's a really great theory--I never even thought of that!

    I really never gave the portraits much speculation--they were always just there. But now that I think about it, I remember something about their being a potion (or was it a spell?) that animated the paintings.



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    I think you're remembering a potion that Colin Creevey used to develop his photos, Julie. I assume that there would be something similar for portraits, though. I really like Jamie's theory because it could also be used to explain the difference between magical portraits and magical photos. From what we see, photos can't speak and don't have the full personality of their subject, unlike portraits. They are just a moving snapshot of the subject in one moment. However, if portraits were magically connected to their subjects and took on their personality when they died, this would explain the difference.

    Regarding the issue of whether the portraits in the Headmaster's office just appear or not, near the end of DH, Snape has died, but when Harry goes into the office, there is no mention of his portrait. This suggests to me that the portraits wouldn't just appear automatically, if I am remembering all of this right. I have a feeling that there is a quote from JKR on the subject, but accio quote seems to be down right now, so I can't dig it out for you, sorry. You probably have some freedom with the issue, because it isn't something that's mentioned explicitly in canon.

    Oh, one last thing. I have a feeling that most witches and wizards would just accept portraits and not question the enchantments behind them, much like we as readers do. They would be a specialist subject, not common knowledge, so I reckon that only Hermione types and portrait painters would know detail of the specific spells used.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jamie
    This is pure headcanon, so take it with a grain of salt, but I had always assumed that the portrait needed to be painted while the person was alive and magically linked to the subject, and then the portrait became animated upon the subject's death and obtained the subject's memories and personality
    Mm,that makes a lot of sense. Also, Voldemort wouldn't have thought it necessary to pursue this route because he didn't think he was going to die.

    The other thing is that perhaps certain positions in life make the portrait likely to appear. Would Snape have considered getting a portrait painted? I'm sure he knew he was going to die, but am unsure he'd think himself worthy of having a portrait alongside the other headmasters/mistresses. His portrait didn't appear straight away because he supposedly 'deserted' his post, but JK tells us Harry made sure a portrait did exist for him.

    I wonder if a picture of Umbridge ever appeared ...

    It does seem clear that Walburga's picture was imbued with her rather noxious spirit, and I can believe she authorised that, very possibly in the years after Regulus died and she was deranged with grief.

    Maybe something similar to the Pensieve is used in that thoughts can be extracted from a person and painted into the picture.

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    I wonder if a picture of Umbridge ever appeared ...
    That would be a complete nightmare. *shudder* But I'm not sure if she died in Azkaban or not...sorry, off topic!

    The more I think of it, the more it seems that Jamie's theory is true. However, I once read a fic (I don't remember the name, sorry!) about Sir Cadogan's portrait. In this, Sir Cadogan was a real person who was unable to afford a portrait he'd ordered and neglected to tell the painter until it was about halfway done. At this point, the painter went ahead and charmed the painting so that, instead of being a noble knight in shining armor, it was...well, it was the Sir Cadogan that we know from canon.

    So, could it be the painter's job to enchant the portraits to suit the personalities of their subject as he (or she) sees fit?



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    Quote Originally Posted by Jamie
    I had always assumed that the portrait needed to be painted while the person was alive and magically linked to the subject, and then the portrait became animated upon the subject's death and obtained the subject's memories and personality. Thus why we see no portraits of people who are still alive, and why a portrait of Dumbledore could "just appear" -- it was already prepared before his death and was ready when he died.
    Tbh, I’d never even thought about portraits and how they came to be, but I really like this theory. I’m wondering a few things, though.

    Quote Originally Posted by Carole
    Also, Voldemort wouldn't have thought it necessary to pursue this route because he didn't think he was going to die.
    This might work for Voldemort, but what would happen if there was a headmaster of Hogwarts who had postponed getting their portrait done (for whatever reason) and then died without warning? This seems fairly likely to happen, yet I was under the impression that all the headmasters of Hogwarts had a portrait.

    Would it be a requirement for everyone in a certain position (i.e. headmaster, Minister of Magic…) to get a portrait done, or would it be optional? If it was a requirement, would Umbridge have one painted?

    I was under the impression that portraits were much more common in the past than in the present, for example, I doubt someone like Sir Cadogan or the Fat Lady would have gotten one done if they had lived in the present day. Perhaps the enchantment to produce a painting with personalities and memories was extremely difficult, and as time progressed, fewer and fewer wizards knew how to do it?

    And while I’m at it, why is it that only portraits have memories, rather than photographs as well? Perhaps there’s a potion, rather than an enchantment, that has to be mixed into the paint or something, because it seems a lot easier to simply take a picture of, say, Dumbledore, rather than paint a picture of him.

    I’m sorry for going on--just my thoughts and musings on the matter. Honestly, I think you could go any way on this. It’s your story, and it’s up to you.

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    What we know about the headmasters' portraits is that they are supposed to appear when the headmaster dies. This is what happens to Dumbledore's. Perhaps, the office has some kind of spell on it.

    Snape's does not appear because he has 'deserted' and turned against the school. Harry makes sure that Snape's portrait is put in, so there must be some way of adding someone to the wall.

    If portraits require some bit of the subject's essence, then perhaps the memories that Snape gave them while dying would be enough. (oh hey, plot bunny...)

    Portraits can move between different places. The portrait of Ariana could move between the inside of the RoR and the Hog's Head, while the portrait of Philius Black could move between the headmaster's office and 18 Grimmauld Place.

    In terms of it being unlikely for Snape to have had a portrait done in advance or made the preparations - this is true. However, it's even more unlikely for this to have been done for Ariana, since she died so young. So clearly, Something has to be possible after death.
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    Quote Originally Posted by AidaLuthien View Post
    In terms of it being unlikely for Snape to have had a portrait done in advance or made the preparations - this is true. However, it's even more unlikely for this to have been done for Ariana, since she died so young. So clearly, Something has to be possible after death.
    Oooh, very good point with Ariana's portrait. Not only was her death when she was young, it was sudden and unexpected, and it was unlikely that her mother doted on her enough to have a portrait made.

    Ariana's portrait didn't interact much with anyone, though - perhaps the spell or charm used to quicken a portrait is more effective if used while the subject is still alive, but can also be used to create the subject (if more ineffective) from the memory of another?

    On the subject of Ariana's portrait, though, I don't think she's actually going into another portrait of her. For one, she doesn't actually leave her frame like the other portraits do; she retreats down a tunnel behind her, and then brings Neville back - THROUGH her portrait, which then opens up to reveal the passageway. For another, we don't actually get to see that there is a corresponding portrait in the ROR, just that the passageway leads there.

    Phineas Black, though, can and does slip between his portraits, which suggests that portraits of a single subject are linked between space. A portrait is able to travel between adjacent portraits in their vicinity, but needs another portrait of themselves if they want to do any travelling further than that.

    I imagine that Umbridge is definitely self-absorbed enough to have commissioned a portrait. Hopefully it will be hanged in an out-of-the-way corridor in the Ministry where it won't bother too many people.

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