Oil on oak panel
Image size: 17 1/4 x 22 1/4 inches (44 x 56.5 cm)
Period oak frame
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This is a portrait of a Tudor gentleman in an open next shirt with one hand raised to his chest. There is no portrait in the world that can be proven beyond doubt that it depicts William Shakespeare. However, it is thought that portraits of him did circulate during his lifetime because of a reference to one in the anonymous play Return from Parnassus (c. 1601), in which a character says “O sweet Mr Shakespeare! I’ll have his picture in my study at the court.”
There are various reasons why this portrait may well be of the bard. The underneath flamboyant collar with loose lace ties that is depicted was quite uncommon during Shakespeare’s lifetime and was a style that was only worn by creative poets and artists. Furthermore, Shakespeare was left-handed, as it our sitter. The sitter in this artwork bears a good similarity to Shakespeare’s memorial bust and to an engraved likeness included in his published works of 1623. It is also comparable to Shakespeare’s death mask as a bump over the left eye and forehead is detectable in both. Notably, all possible portraits of Shakespeare share this curious bulge.
Most importantly, the portrait is strikingly similar to the infamous Chandos portrait of Shakespeare, now in the National Portrait Gallery. The Chandos portrait is widely believed to be the only painted portrait of Shakespeare that has a good claim to have been painted from life.
This portrait fits perfectly as an overlay of the Chandos portrait and the similarity is striking in that all the facial features are absolutely identical. Once superimposed it becomes clear that both paintings share the same eyes, nostril shape, elongated nasal philtrum and mouth.
Despite all of this, it will always remain notoriously difficult to prove that any portrait depicts Shakespeare, if that is in fact possible at all.
William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright, and actor. He was born on 26 April 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon. His father was a successful local businessman and his mother was the daughter of a landowner. Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England’s national poet and nicknamed the Bard of Avon. He wrote about 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and a few other verses, of which the authorship of some is uncertain. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.
Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway at the age of 18. She was eight years older than him. They had three children: Susanna, and twins Hamnet and Judith. After his marriage information about his life became very rare. But he is thought to have spent most of his time in London writing and performing in his plays. Between 1585 and 1592, he began a successful career in London as an actor, writer, and part-owner of a playing company called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later known as the King’s Men.
Around 1613, at the age of 49, he retired to Stratford , where he died three years later. Few records of Shakespeare’s private life survive. He died on 23 April 1616, at the age of 52. He died within a month of signing his will, a document which he begins by describing himself as being in “perfect health”. In his will, Shakespeare left the bulk of his large estate to his elder daughter Susanna.
Shakespeare produced most of his known work between 1589 and 1613. His early plays were mainly comedies and histories and these works remain regarded as some of the best work produced in these genres. He then wrote mainly tragedies until about 1608, including Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth, considered some of the finest works in the English language. In his last phase, he wrote tragicomedies, also known as romances, and collaborated with other playwrights.
Shakespeare’s plays remain highly popular today and are constantly studied, performed, and reinterpreted in diverse cultural and political contexts throughout the world.