March 10th, 2009

A True Likeness?

Professor Stanley Wells believes that this-

File:First Folio.jpg

The Droeshout engraving- the only fully vouched for contemporary likeness (apart from the pudding-faced bust on the tomb)- and all the other supposed portraits of Shakespeare are derived from this-

File:Cobbe portrait 2009-03-09.jpg

The Cobbe portrait- which - until recently-  was on display in a country house in Ireland. I don't see it myself. All Jacobethan portraits of young-to-middle-aged men look a bit like our idea of Shakespeare- It's generic- but get down to details and nothing fits. Take the eyes; the Droeshout eyes are rounder and more heavily-lidded. Take the nose; the Droeshout nose has a knobbier tip. The cheekbones are different. The forehead (even allowing for Droeshout's man being older and balder) is entirely different. If I'd commissioned Droeshout to copy the Cobbe portrait and he'd come up with what he did I'd have sent him back to his drawing board.

As for provenance, the Cobbe portrait's claim rests on it having been inherited from an 18th century descendant of Shakespeare's patron, the Earl of Southampton. And that's it. No-one seems to have seriously identified it as a portrait of Shakespeare until a modern member of the Cobbe family spotted its similarity to a portrait in the Folger collection - which is universally regarded as an 18th century fake- or more precisely as a 17th century portrait of an unknown sitter which has been substantially altered to look like our idea of Shakespeare. So a faint resemblance- and it is faint- and generic-  to a faked up "likeness" demonstrates that the Cobbe portrait is the source of all the portraits? I don't think so.

There's a book in the offing. Unless it contains killer facts that weren't revealed at the press conference- which seems unlikely- I'm putting the whole thing down to wishful thinking .