As always with questions of Shakespeare’s life and identity, this is a tricky area, full of supposition, conjecture and guesswork. No Sweat Shakespeare has looked into pictures of William Shakespeare and written an overview below.
There are quite a few pictures and portraits of Shakespeare – each has their champions who insist that a particular painting or engraving or sculpture is the true image of him. Here is No Sweat Shakespeare ‘s considered opinion:
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Whenever anyone wants to create an instant recognition impression of Shakespeare they will present this kind of shorthand image – the dome-like high forehead, the beard and moustache, and the shoulder length hair. As soon as you see it you will think ‘Shakespeare.’ These stock images are inspired by the Droeshout engraving.
The Droeshout Engraving
It is a strong contender for the distinction of being a good likeness, although it is not lifelike. The English engraver, Martin Droeshout, created it for the First Folio (first edition) of Shakespeare’s published works. He was 15 when Shakespeare died and 22 when he did the engraving. It is unlikely that he ever saw Shakespeare but he is thought to have worked from an authentic portrait, which hasn’t survived.
The Hilliard Minature
Titled ‘An unknown Man’, the Hilliard Minature is very pretty but there is not a great deal of credibility in the claim that it is a portrait of Shakespeare. Apart from everything else, it is nothing like the more credible images, and is an expensive painting by a society artist. It is also clearly a portrait of a young aristocrat, which Shakespeare was not. No Sweat Shakespeare doesn’t understand why anyone has claimed that it is Shakespeare.
The Sanders Portrait
The Sanders Portrait was discovered in an attic in a house in Canada in 2002. It created a great deal of interest and there have been numerous conferences about it with experts taking sides. No Sweat Shakespeare likes the idea of an authentic picture of the young Shakespeare but there are a great number of problems with it. It was painted when Shakespeare was 39 years old but it is a painting of a much younger man. No Sweat Shakespeare doesn’t know what to think about it.
The Chandos Portrait
The Chandos Portrait is lifelike and was thought to have been painted by a member of Shakespeare’s acting company, Richard Burbage. Unfortunately, most experts agree that it is unlikely that it is a portrait of Shakespeare. It does resemble the Droeshout engraving, though.
The Holy Trinity Bust
The Holy Trinity Bust was commissioned after his death by his son-in-law and placed above his grave in the Holy Trinity Church. His widow was still alive then, and we can’t imagine that they would have placed a false image of him over his grave! There is general agreement that this is the likeness of Shakespeare, looking rather old and bloated, but that’s life: we can’t expect our hero to fit the fantasies we may have about him. He was once a young man and wrote Romeo And Juliet when he was thirty. Wouldn’t it be a treat to be able to see what he looked like then?
The Cobbe Portrait
The Cobbe portrait is a panel painting displayed at Hatchlands Park in Surrey. It was owned by Charles Cobbe (1686-1765) the Anglican Archbishop of Dublin. Early copies were thought to be of Shakespeare and the original was discovered only in 2006. Researchers at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust claimed in 2009 that it is a painting of Shakespeare, painted from life. Their evidence includes the fact that the painting came to the Cobbe family via Shakespeare’s patron,Southampton’s great granddaughter, who inherited it. Scientific testing showed that the portrait is painted on a panel of English oak sometime after 1595 – the form of the collar suggests a painting date of around 1610. The portrait is inscribed with the words ‘Principum amicitias!’, meaning ‘the alliances of princes!’, a quotation from Horace in an ode addressed to a man who was, among other things, a playwright.
No Sweat Shakespeare ‘s conclusion is that though there’s evidence the Cobbe portrait may have been painted from life.we should stick with the Droeshout engraving for a general idea of Shakespeare’s appearance, and go to Stratford, and visit the Holy Trinity Church for a true impression of what Shakespeare looked like shortly before his death.