This paper analyses functional role of portraiture in the culture of the Chinese court during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). Shifting the focus of analysis from the art object itself to its function enables us to interpret the Chinese traditional painting against its historical and social context. This paper attempts to answer the question of what function portraits played at the Song court between the 10 th and 11 th centuries. The goal of this study is to define the main categories of official portraits based on function. The paper starts with the description of portraiture terminology and main features of the genre during the Northern Song Dynasty. Based on the study of the primary sources, the paper then analyses four categories of official portraits. The first category is portraits with didactic meaning representing exemplary personalities of past and present. Song emperors commissioned portraits of ancient rulers, prominent scholars and officials to promote Confucian moral values among the members of the imperial family and bureaucrats. Such portraits were addressed to a broad audience and thus were placed in the public space. The second category: portraits depicting the current emperors; these portraits were usually stored in imperial archives and intended for a private use. The third category: portraits of former emperors, which were commissioned for ancestor worship ceremonies. Images of this category were installed in special ancestral halls and served as objects of veneration. The fourth category: portraits of political opponents or rulers of neighboring states. These portraits were commissioned for the goals of intelligence, political struggle and diplomacy.