A Horcrux contains a shard of someones soul. On a physical level it is a passive object.

The paintings in Hogwarts contain imprints of people who lived with it and are dead now. The imprints are bonded to the physical painting, but can interact with the world around them. They can even move themselves (e.g. to open a door).

On some level the paintings seem to be the more powerful magical objects. If the painting imprints were moved into another object (e.g. a car) they may be able to control this too. Or they may become something like the Sorting Hat. But no one ever did this. It sounds like a huge waste of potential.

Is there some kind of group/hierarchy of moving/talking/interacting magical objects to classify things like the imprinted paintings, the Horcruxes or the Sorting Hat?

  • 4
    You don't have to murder someone to create a painting. – Skooba Jan 11 at 12:51
  • 3
    Do you not? I think I've been doing art wrong... – Alarion Jan 11 at 13:24
  • Comparing apples and underwater basket-weaving? – Martha Jan 11 at 17:48

Your premise seems to be a bit flawed. Portraits are started while the subject is still alive and can be taught by subject in certain instances but in the end is still very limited in how it can interact with the living world. They don't have free will nor can they physically interact with object outside of paintings.

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.

Hogwarts Portraits by J.K. Rowling on Pottermore

Also the an important thing the sets the Horcrux apart from both portraits and the Sorting Hat is that, in order to create a Horcrux the first step is to murder someone. They also do contain a piece of the living person's soul...

  • If they can't physically interact, this raises a question of how the Fat Lady opens her portrait. – Adrian Wragg Jan 11 at 15:39

There’s no way to rank them in power.

The functions of Horcruxes and enchanted portraits are entirely different, so there’s no logical way to rank them in a hierarchy of which is more powerful. They’re inherently different in what their purpose is.

Horcruxes tie their creator’s soul to earth.

Creating a Horcrux requires committing murder to split the soul, and once the soul piece is encased in an external object, the wizard who created the Horcrux cannot die because their soul is tied to life.

“Well, you split your soul, you see,’ said Slughorn, ‘and hide part of it in an object outside the body. Then, even if one’s body is attacked or destroyed, one cannot die, for part of the soul remains earthbound and undamaged. But, of course, existence in such a form …”
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 23 (Horcruxes)

They keep the wizards that create them tied to earth, ensuring that their soul remains alive, giving them immortality. Their bodies may die but their souls will remain and they can create new bodies.

Paintings mimic their subject’s personality.

Though they have varying levels of their subjects’ personalities, paintings aren’t truly their subjects - they’re just an imprint of them. They also do nothing to keep their subject alive, their subjects are all dead.

All the paintings we have seen at Hogwarts are of dead people. They seem to be living through their portraits. How is this so? If there was a painting of Harry’s parents, would he be able to obtain advice from them?

That is a very good question. They are all of dead people; they are not as fully realised as ghosts, as you have probably noticed. The place where you see them really talk is in Dumbledore’s office, primarily; the idea is that the previous headmasters and headmistresses leave behind a faint imprint of themselves. They leave their aura, almost, in the office and they can give some counsel to the present occupant, but it is not like being a ghost. They repeat catchphrases, almost. The portrait of Sirius’ mother is not a very 3D personality; she is not very fully realised. She repeats catchphrases that she had when she was alive. If Harry had a portrait of his parents it would not help him a great deal. If he could meet them as ghosts, that would be a much more meaningful interaction, but as Nick explained at the end of Phoenix—I am straying into dangerous territory, but I think you probably know what he explained—there are some people who would not come back as ghosts because they are unafraid, or less afraid, of death.
- Edinburgh Book Festival (August 15, 2004)

There’s no Dark magic required in creating a portrait, nor murder, but they don’t offer their subjects any additional life either.

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