A tronie (Seventeenth-century Dutch for a "face") is a common type, or group of types, of works of Dutch Golden Age painting and Flemish Baroque painting that shows an exaggerated facial expression or a stock character in costume. In contemporary usage the term might cover any picture of an unidentified sitter, but in modern art-historical usage it is typically restricted to figures who do not seem to have been intended to be identifiable, so genre painting in a portrait format. Typically a painted head or bust only, if concentrating on the facial expression, but often half-length if an exotic costume featured, they might be based on studies from life or use the features of actual sitters. But the image would normally be sold on the art market without identification of the sitter, and would not have been commissioned and retained by the sitter as portraits normally were. Similar unidentified figures treated as history paintings would normally be given a title from the classical world, for example the Rembrandt painting now known as Saskia as Flora.
Several Rembrandt self-portrait etchings are tronies, as are paintings of himself, his son and his women. Three Vermeer paintings were described as "tronies" in the Dissius auction of 1696, perhaps including the Girl with a Pearl Earring and the Washington Young Girl with a flute. Frans Hals also painted a number of tronies, which are now among his best-known works, including the two tronies known as Malle Babbe and the Gypsy Girl (see gallery).
The tronie is related to, and has some overlap with, the "portrait historié", a portrait of a real person as another, usually historical or mythological, figure. Jan de Bray specialised in these, and many portraitists sometimes showed aristocratic ladies in particular as mythological figures.
Frans Hals, so-called Gypsy Girl
Rembrandt, etching, Self-portrait with a Cap, openmouthed.
Tronie of a young woman, Rembrandt, Mauritshuis
- Joseph Ducreux - French 18th century portraitist whose less formal works use extreme expressions
- Franz Xaver Messerschmidt - Austrian sculptor best known for his extreme "character heads"
- Hirschfelder, Dagmar: Tronie und Porträt in der niederländischen Malerei des 17. Jahrhunderts. Berlin: Gebr. Mann Verlag, 2008. ISBN 978-3-7861-2567-9
- Gottwald, Franziska: Das Tronie. Muster - Studie - Meisterwerk. Die Genese einer Gattung der Malerei vom 15. Jahrhundert bis zu Rembrandt, München/Berlin: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2009. ISBN 978-3-422-06930-5
- Hirschfelder, Dagmar / Krempel, León (Eds.): Tronies. Das Gesicht in der Frühen Neuzeit, Berlin: Gebr. Mann Verlag, 2013.