I have frequently seen the word crypto-portrait popping up in articles on Wikipedia and elsewhere, but I was not able to find a definition for it. Apparently there used to be an article on Wikipedia but it has since been removed (there are dead links to it).

Here are some of the places you can see the word used:

  • I think this is General Reference - despite the fact that you won't find crypto-portrait defined in any standard dictionary. The prefix crypto- itself has a pretty straightforward and consistent meaning; when applied to portrait, it should be obvious that the portrait has some "hidden" (probably, subversive) significance. Nov 9, 2012 at 21:55
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    I can't find it in Wikipedia's deletion log, so those dead links are probably to an as yet not created page.
    – Hugo
    Nov 9, 2012 at 22:53
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    +1 Nice question. @FumbleFingers But that doesn't necessarily tell you what is hidden or if the term even means what it is expected to mean. (To me a pedo-phile is somebody with a foot fetish.) Nov 10, 2012 at 7:13
  • @coleopterist: Hmm. Well the only answer here presents Lippi's Salome as a possible example, and that's got 7 upvotes. But I'd bet money that (to the extent crypto-portrait is used at all, which isn't much) it would normally include some element of "subversiveness". I think in general, the crypto- prefix is strongly associated with concealed subversion (often political). Including a likeness of your mother's face in a painting doesn't seem like an archetypal example to me. Nov 10, 2012 at 16:00

2 Answers 2


Crypto-portrait is an art history term for a portrait of a person which is not identified as such. For example, the painting below is Dance of Salome, 1452–1457, by Fra Filippo Lippi. Some art historians suspect this “Salome” is a crypto-portrait: a likeness of Lippi’s mother.

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There are six late 19th-century woodcuts by Félix Vallotton featuring musical instruments. From oral tradition, they are known to be crypto-portraits of six well-known musicians of the era. It seems that the instrument is not only associated with a given musician because the man played it, but they are drawn so that there is some physical likeness between the instrument and the musician.

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