In this ambitious study, Richard Wendorf establishes the grounds of comparison between two arts that have often been linked in a casual way but whose historical interrelations remain almost completely unexplored. By focusing on the great age of English portraiture - from the arrival of Van Dyck to the publication of Boswell's Life of Johnson - the author shows that, despite their obvious differences, visual and verbal portraits often shared similar assumptions about the representation of historical character. Grounded in modern theory devoted to the comparison of literature and painting and to the problem of representation, this book examines each form of portraiture in terms of the other. Among those writers considered are Izaak Walton, John Evelyn, John Aubrey, Roger North, Goldsmith, Johnson, Mrs Piozzi, Boswell; among the artists are Van Dyck, Lely, Samuel Cooper, Jonathan Richardson, Hogarth and Reynolds. The careers of 'double agents' (painters, like Richardson and Reynolds, who experimented with biographical writing) are also discussed. The Elements of Life is a ground-breaking critical history of biography and portrait-painting in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.