London’s Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Monday unveiled what they called the only portrait of William Shakespeare painted during his lifetime.
“The evidence that it represents Shakespeare and that is was done from life, though it is circumstantial, is in my view overwhelming,” Professor Stanley Wells, chairman of the trust, said Monday. “I feel in little doubt that this is a portrait of Shakespeare, done from life.” The announcement comes after three years of research. The Cobbe portrait — named after the Irish family who own the painting — shows Shakespeare with rosy cheeks, a frilly white lace collar, a full head of hair, and a reddish brown beard. Scientific tests have determined that it was painted in 1610, when the playwright was about 46 years old, according to Wells. The most common portrait of Shakespeare is a gray image showing a bald Bard with a small mustache and beard, and bags under his eyes. “Up to now, only two images have been widely accepted as genuine likenesses of Shakespeare,” Wells said. “Both are dull. This new portrait is a very fine painting.” Wells said the other images were an engraving by Martin Droeshout published in 1623 and a bust in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon. Both are posthumous — Shakespeare died in 1616. Wells said the engraver, who was only in his teens when Shakespeare died, must have had a picture to work from. The group believed it was the Cobbe portrait. He said the portrait had been handed down through generations of Cobbes, whose art collection included a number of pieces that once belonged to the third Earl of Southampton — Shakespeare’s only known literary patron.