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WATCH: CBS News Report On The Cobbe Portrait Painting Of William Shakespeare

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Images Of William Shakespeare: Which Picture Portrait
Is True - The Cobbe, Chandos or Sanders Paintings?

SHAKESPEARE'S IMAGE IDENTIFIED: The Cobbe painting of English playwright William Shakespeare is considered to be the most authentic picture of the Bard painted within his lifetime. But not all Shakespeare scholars agree.

IS THIS A PAINTING OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE? Several portrait images have been put forward by Shakespeare scholars over the years, but which of them represents his true likeness? By Ben Arogundade.

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*PICTURE PORTRAITS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE ACCORDING TO GOOGLE SEARCH

150

The number of people worldwide who Google the phrase, “Cobbe portrait” each month.

260

The number of people worldwide who Google the phrase, “Chandos portrait” each month.

900

The number of people worldwide who Google the phrase, “Pictures of William Shakespeare” each month.

*All figures for “Picture Portraits Of William Shakespeare According to Google Search”, supplied by Google. Stats include global totals for laptop and desktop computers and mobile devices.

The many faces of William Shakespeare: top left; the Chandos portrait, painting, which some Shakespeareans still believe to be the most authentic portrait of the Bard. Above; The Droeshout picture, as it appeared in the frontispiece of William Shakespeare's First Folio, published in 1623.

Stanley Wells, Chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, poses with the Cobbe portrait painting of William Shakespeare, March 9, 2009. Photo by Getty Images.

THE DEBATE ABOUT which of the proposed portrait paintings of William Shakespeare is really him has been as heated as the age-old question about whether or not he authored his own plays. Further, the speculation is compounded by the fact there is no clear evidence that Shakespeare ever commissioned a self-portrait, and there are no written descriptions of the Bard’s physical appearance within any texts.

Nevertheless, what we do have are two images of him that are widely accepted as representing his likeness:

SHAKESPEARE'S DROESHOUT PORTRAIT
The frontispiece to Shakespeare’s First Folio, published in 1623, is an engraving by Martin Droeshout, featuring an image of the Bard as a round-faced, balding figure with bags under his eyes and a light moustache. The publication also contains a poem by Ben Jonson implying that the visage is a good likeness of Shakespeare.

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S FUNERARY MONUMENT BUST
Located in the Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-Upon-Avon, this half-length statue was erected very soon after Shakespeare’s death, and is thought to have been commissioned by the playwright’s son-in-law, John Hall.

Aside from these, there are several pictures — the Sanders, Zuccari, Grafton and Chandos portraits, amongst the most well known — that have also been claimed to represent William Shakespeare’s likeness. The problem with many of them, including the Droeshout portrait and the funerary bust, is that they were most likely created posthumously — and so the key question is, which of them were created while Shakespeare was alive, and therefore may have provided the creative source material for subsequent renderings.

SHAKESPEARE'S COBBE PORTRAIT PAINTING
The Cobbe portrait painting is the main contender. Believed to have been painted in 1610, six years before Shakespeare’s death, this early Jacobean oil panel painting was passed down through the Cobbe family after originally being inherited by Archbishop Cobbe. It eventually passed into the hands of art restorer Alec Cobbe. In 2006, while attending an exhibition at London’s National Portrait Gallery, he saw a copy of his painting of Shakespeare on display, which was on loan from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington.

Believing his portrait to be the original, he contacted Professor Stanley Wells, chairman of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Despite Wells’ initial scepticism he agreed to investigate Cobbe’s claim, and on March 9, 2009, after three years of forensic analysis, which included detailed x-rays and infrared imaging, his team announced the painting to be the only true surviving portrait of William Shakespeare that was painted during his life. “I am willing to go 90 per cent of the way to declaring my confirmation that this is the only lifetime portrait of Shakespeare,” said Wells. “It marks a major development in the history of Shakespearian portraiture.”

But, barely two weeks after Wells announcement, fresh doubt was cast on the assumption that the painting depicted William Shakespeare at all. Dr Tarnya Cooper, 16th century curator at the National Portrait Gallery, suggested that the portrait actually bore a greater resemblance to 17th century poet and essayist Sir Thomas Overbury.

SHAKESPEARE'S CHANDOS PORTRAIT PAINTING
Cooper, who completed a three-and-a-half year study of all the portraits purporting to be of Shakespeare, believes that the Chandos portrait painting, donated to the National Portrait Gallery in 1856, is the most likely representation of Shakespeare. Although she offers no clears proof for her assumption, she points out that the sitter’s earring and loose shirt-ties were typical fashions for poets of the era.

In the end, we may be no clearer about the truth than we are about the other misty details of William Shakespeare’s life and work. It may not deliver the truth so many crave, but it nevertheless enriches his enigma and legacy.

The SHAKESPEARE MASHUP by Ben Arogundade is out now.

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