The portraits in the Harry Potter world - they talk, they act. Are they reflections of the person whom they portray, or are they, at least potentially, independent? Do they have free will? Do they, therefore have a soul?

We know that the Fat Lady could be afraid (3rd book) and Sir Cadogan could show courage, we know that Phineas Nigellus could like or dislike people, spy and whatnot. All of this seems to imply a measure of self-awareness.

What I'm curious about is, do artist in the HP universe perform an act of true creation, when painting a portrait? I am given to understand that Christianity only allows God to give things souls (Tolkien struggled with orcs, Morgoth's creations, possessing Free Will, and eventually made their origin to be tortured elves, making the Free Will thus come from Ilúvatar). Considering Rowling is also quite devout and has stated that Harry Potter is a deeply Christian work, I find this element curious.

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  • @Galastel Having a soul doesn't make a being a person. A theological soul is merely a device to enable a biological being to continue living after the death of their biological body. Therefore, if a hypothetical god is all knowing, all good, and all powerful,that god will: 1) be informed enough to know who is a person and thus deserves to have soul, 2) be good enough to give that person a soul, and 3) will be powerful enough to give that person a soul. Of course if a hypothetical god is not all three then it would be possible for persons to not have souls. Continued. – M. A. Golding Oct 5 '18 at 20:56
  • @Galastel Continued. And in the future religions will have to accept that there is no evidence that souls make their recipients people, and that instead souls are given to people to enable them to survive the deaths of their bodies. And accept that it is very difficult for mortals to deduce who is a person who deserves to have a soul and who is not, and also accept that it is impossible for mortals to detect who has a soul, and also accept that theological arguments about who has a soul are on shaky ground and have dubious validity. – M. A. Golding Oct 5 '18 at 21:00
  • @M.A.Golding I think now I'm even more confused about Christian theology than I was before... – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Oct 5 '18 at 21:12
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    @Galastel - I wouldn't take SE comments as a definitive description of Christian theology. Especially without a declaration of perspective. – RDFozz Oct 5 '18 at 21:58


Portraits are merely magical representations of their subjects, and are sometimes taught by those still living on how to behave.

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.


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.

Portraits by J.K. Rowling on Pottermore

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