Oxford is stuffed full of paintings. The colleges and university have been commissioning portraits of their members and their benefactors for centuries, and inheriting (or being given) a good sprinkling of other works of art from grateful friends and alumni. In fact, between them Oxford and Cambridge must be the biggest customers for painted portraits in the country, as almost every college has its master or mistress immortalised, as well as assorted other figures from many parts of the college community.
Right now I am having fun exploring the Oxford collection, in two wonderful volumes from the Public Catalogue Foundation (one here, the second here ). The material is also available online on the BBC Your Paintings website, but I have been enjoying flipping through the pages in the old-fashioned way. I'm a paid-up supporter of the PCF, so I'm biased, but I think not hugely so.
As you might expect there are plenty of rather pompous-looking male dons (it makes you remember, lest you ever forget, quite how white and male most of the almost 1000-year history of Oxford has been, and how rapid the recent change has been). Apart from the occasional benefactress or wife, women as subjects appear only in the late nineteenth century.
But there are many more striking and different paintings and styles than you would think. One is the recent triptych of the non-academic staff at All Souls by Benjamin Sullivan, pictured above (photo Simon Dunn of Scriptura) and you can read more here. But interestingly the idea of painting the staff rather than just the 'top dons' goes back longer than you might have predicted. In 1929 the Fellows of Trinity commissioned a portrait (on the right, by Edwin Irvine Halliday, photo thanks to the college) of Owen Gillam, a long serving college "messenger"; not a job that has survived, I think!
But there are also a nice lot of variants on the standard "don-portrait" -- that is, the late middle-aged man, in suit or gown, sitting by desk with some appropriate book or trinket as prop.