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Magical portraits are a type of sentient artefact, and are common in the wizarding world. The subjects of portraits are sentient, can speak to and with people on the outside, and they can move into other portraits in the same building, as well as visit their own portraits in other places. Some pure-blood wizards think that Muggle portraits are weird, because they do not move or display the personality in them.

Portraits beings

Beings in painted portraits have most of the capabilities of physical beings, only from inside the world of their frame or network of portraits nearby in which they can travel. They are usually resurrected for a fixed purpose which they stick to. They are fully sentient however, the details of the personalities and memories vary depending on the circumstances of the being depicted; and in most cases are more like an "echo" of the person they represent. They are still conscious beings, only embedded inside a frame. In most cases they are not able to accurately remember all of their subject's memories, and therefore have separate memories and a separate existence from within the portrait world whilst taking the form of a real person. Therefore it is safe to say that in most cases a portrait being's personality is only a replica of their subject's. However, if the portrait painter is drawing themselves it is most likely that the portrait being could have exactly the same personality and memories of the subject (depending on which aspects of themselves the subject wants to be portrayed). Portrait beings are aware that they are not actually the person they represent but a replica, and they may describe themselves as 'only a copy of themselves,' if they are not able to accurately answer a question about their subject's life. It is thought that the accuracy of a portrait personality is that of where and/or when the being's personality is depicted, the accuracy could also depend on how well the portrait painter knows the person they are painting.

Portrait beings can live indefinitely, although they are not completely immortal, and it is thought that if caused by another portrait being, or if the portrait is damaged from means of the outside world, then a being can die. However portraits can be restored.

Portraits are often produced or created after a person's death. This can allow the person to live on to some extent, and if a self-portrait (and the subject decided to portray every aspect of their personality), then in some rare cases, the dead person is effectively 'bought back to life eternally,' and the portrait is completely accurate. However this is very rare, and in most cases the portrait being is only an echo of their subject with many differences to their personality and memories.

Portrait beings may not only be humans, but animals as well. Entire landscapes can also exist in portraits. In the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, when the Fat Lady's portrait was damaged, the portrait she moved to was a landscape with animals in it. It is most likely possible that portrait beings can effectively 'add' to their portraits, and even create places within the portrait that is not visible from the portrait's frame.

Portraits are used to guard secret passages, and possibly used for everyday tasks; for example, a portrait being representing the owner of a house-elf could command it in the absence of the owner so that the house can be maintained.

The portraits of past Headmasters at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry are created to help the current Headmaster. A portrait of a Headmaster appears in the office after their death. These portraits only have memories which shall be useful to assisting future headmasters, and are therefore barely accurate although these portraits' personalities are similar to that of their subject's.

It is most likely that to paint a magical portrait, a certain type of magic paint is required, however this may not be the case. Albus Dumbledore's portrait appeared in the Headmaster's office within hours, if not minutes of his death. This suggests that either Headmaster's portraits are created during the Headmaster's lifetime, or else the position is somehow enchanted to ensure that a painting is automatically created.

Portraits vs. magical photographs

Portraits are different than the moving photographs seen in the wizarding world. Any movement within a photograph is just a mere recording on a continuous loop. The people depicted have no sentience whatsoever. They are essentially isolated within the world of their photograph.

Travelling in portraits


The Fat Lady hiding in another portrait.

Apparently, only a single portrait-being of an individual can exist, and if they have more than one portrait, they must spend time moving between them. Apparently if the location inside two portraits are the same, then a being could essentially be in both portraits at one time; it is possible that this trick is used as a means of communication.

Phineas Nigellus Black has a painting in the Headmaster's office in Hogwarts and at 12 Grimmauld Place. In 1997, Hermione took Phineas' portrait from 12 Grimmauld Place and placed it in her small, beaded bag and carried it with her during their travels.[1] Later, Harry, asked the portrait of Phineas Nigellus if it was possible to bring Professor Dumbledore from his portrait in Hogwarts to the portrait from Grimmauld Place, but Phineas Nigellus angrily answered that the portraits of Hogwarts may commune with each other, but they cannot travel outside the castle except to visit a painting of themselves hanging nearby.[2]

NEW from 'Pottermore'

Pottermore: Book Three Chapter: "The Slashed Painting"Hogwarts portraits are able to talk and move around from picture to picture. They behave like their subjects. However, the degree to which they can interact with the people looking at them depends not on the skill of the painter, but on the power of the witch or wizard painted. When a magical portrait is taken, the witch or wizard artist will naturally use enchantments to ensure that the painting will be able to move in the usual way. The portrait will be able to use some of the subject’s favourite phrases and imitate their general demeanour. Thus, Sir Cadogan’s portrait is forever challenging people to a fight, falling off its horse and behaving in a fairly unbalanced way, which is how the subject appeared to the poor wizard who had to paint him, while the portrait of the Fat Lady continues to indulge her love of good food, drink and tip-top security long after her living model passed away. However, neither of these portraits would be capable of having a particularly in-depth discussion about more complex aspects of their lives: they are literally and metaphorically two-dimensional. They are only representations of the living subjects as seen by the artist. Some magical portraits are capable of considerably more interaction with the living world. Traditionally, a headmaster or headmistress is painted before their death. Once the portrait is completed, the headmaster or headmistress in question keeps it under lock and key, regularly visiting it in its cupboard (if so desired) to teach it to act and behave exactly like themselves, and imparting all kinds of useful memories and pieces of knowledge that may then be shared through the centuries with their successors in office. The depth of knowledge and insight contained in some of the headmasters’ and headmistresses’ portraits is unknown to any but the incumbents of the office and the few students who have realised, over the centuries, that the portraits’ apparent sleepiness when visitors arrive in the office is not necessarily genuine.

Known portraits

Portrait Known locations Notes
Albus Dumbledore During Severus Snape's time as Headmaster the painting hid the Sword of Gryffindor, to keep it safe from Lord Voldemort.
Ambrose Swott
Anne Boleyn
Ariana Dumbledore In 1997–1998 school year, her portrait concealed a secret passage to the Room of Requirement.
Armando Dippet
Barnabas the Barmy
Professor Basil Fronsac Secret passages:

1995–1996 school year

1996–1997 school year

Bloody Baron Slytherin House Ghost
Brian Gagwille
Brutus Scrimgeour Concealed a secret passage between the Trophy Room and the 4th floor.
Circe Concealed a secret passage between the Grand Staircase and the Entrance Hall side room.
Damara Dodderidge 1995 to 1997* Her portrait concealed a secret passage from the Grand Staircase to the Clock Tower.
Dexter Fortescue
Dilys Derwent
Edgar Stroulger Guards a secret passage in 1993
Elfrida Cragg
Elizabeth Burke 1991 to 1995*Grand Staircase1995 to 1996*Entrance Dungeon*Near the entrance to the Potions Classroom*The 7th floor corridor 1995 to 1996 her portrait concealed 2 secret passageways:


Emeric Switch
Edessa Sakndenberg
Fat Friar Hufflepuff House Ghost
Fat Lady
George von Rheticus 1995–1996 school year

1996–1997 school year

Secret passages:

1995–1996 school year

1996–1997 school year

Giffard Abbott 1995 to 1997 guarded 2 short-cuts:
Gilderoy Lockhart Only during the 1992–1993 school year
Glanmore Peakes Concealed a secret passage between the Grand Staircase and the Entrance Hall side room.
Godric Gryffindor Guarded a secret passage between the Grand Staircase and the Entrance Hall side room.One of the founders of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Google Stump Concealed a secret passage to the 1st floor corridor.
Greta Catchlove Concealed a secret passage between the Grand Staircase and the Entrance Hall side room.
Günther der Gewalttätige ist der Gewinner
  • Unknown
Depicts Gunther the Violent
Helena Ravenclaw Her portrait was non-speaking
Heliotrope Wilkins
Hengist Rawkes
Iris Pivis
Merwyn the Malicious Concealed a secret passage between the Grand Staircase and the Entrance Hall side room.
Mirabella Plunkett Concealed a secret passage between the Grand Staircase and the Entrance Hall side room.
Newton Scamander
Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington
Norvel Twonk Concealed a secret passage between the Grand Staircase and the Entrance Hall side room.
Oraclitus Spheer
Percival Pratt 1995–1996 school year
Phineas Nigellus Black
People watching Quidditch
Professor Walter Aragon
Quentin Trimble
Salazar Slytherin Concealed a secret passage between the Dungeons antechamber and the Entrance Hall side room.[3]One of the founders of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Sedley Smirkpaltter
Severus Snape
Sir Cadogan In 1993, he was temporarily the guard to the Gryffindor Tower while the Fat Lady's portrait was being repaired.
Timothy the Timid 1995–1996 school year

1996–1997 school year

Secret Passages:

1995–1996 school year

1996–1997 school year

  • Between the Grand Staircase and the Quidditch Gate
  • Between the Quidditch Gate and the Portrait Room
Tobias Manlethorpe
Temeritus Shanks 1992–1993 school year

1995–1996 school year

Secret passages:

1995–1996 school year

1996–1997 school year

Unidentified red-haired witch Grand Staircase
Valeria Myriadd 1991–1992 school year

1992–1993 school year

Secret passage between the Gryffindor Tower to a Disused seventh floor bathroom
Vindictus Viridian Concealed the entrance to the Room of Rewards.
Violet Is friends with the Fat Lady.
Walburga Black Magically fixed to the wall with a Permanent Sticking Charm.
Woman in the hospital wing

Headmaster portraits

Main article: Headmaster portraits

Behind the scenes

  • In the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, it is established that at least some portrait subjects have the ability to move between different portraits, at least within Hogwarts. After her portrait is damaged, the Fat Lady vacates it, and a search of other portraits is ordered (and she is indeed found hiding in one nearby). In a deleted scene, Sir Cadogan is also shown moving from portrait to portrait, even to the extent of flirting with a female portrait.
  • In the LEGO Harry Potter games, portraits are shown to be far more interactive than in any other media, with objects able to move from the portrait out to the real world and vice versa. Many puzzles in both games revolve around getting a portrait to give you a necessary object, or bringing a real world object into the portrait to assist its occupants.

See also

Notes and references

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