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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: May ::
Re: Possible New Portrait
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1164  Tuesday, 22 May 2001

[1]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Friday, 18 May 2001 08:27:23 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1150 Re: Possible New Portrait

[2]     From:   Kezia Vanmeter Sproat <
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        Date:   Friday, 18 May 2001 10:52:54 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1150 Re: Possible New Portrait

[3]     From:   Andrew W. White <
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        Date:   Friday, 18 May 2001 11:08:06 -0400
        Subj:   Re: Possible New Portrait

[4]     From:   Tony Lea <
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        Date:   Friday, 18 May 2001 19:46:59 -0400
        Subj:   Re: Possible New Portrait


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Friday, 18 May 2001 08:27:23 -0500
Subject: 12.1150 Re: Possible New Portrait
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1150 Re: Possible New Portrait

 Larry Weiss asks,

>The label says that the picture was "taken" in 1603.  Was that usage of
>the verb common in the early 17C?

I can't speak to how common it was then, but I believe it was quite
common in the Restoration / 18th Century, so it probably was at least
moderately so in the preceding era. (Sometimes new /  cant meanings of
terms become widespread and formally acceptable in a rush, but usually a
meaning has been around for a long time.) My compressed OED (vintage 71)
lists an example from 1607, plus (among others) a quotation from the
"Vicar of Wakefield," which reassures me that I haven't forgotten
everything from grad school.

If someone has ready access to a copy of Johnson's dictionary they might
supply us with what he thought about that meaning. And, of course,
someone might pop it into the WS concordance.

My preliminary judgment, though, is that the term is fully acceptable.

Don

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kezia Vanmeter Sproat <
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Date:           Friday, 18 May 2001 10:52:54 EDT
Subject: 12.1150 Re: Possible New Portrait
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1150 Re: Possible New Portrait

Re. Larry Weiss's question on the meaning of "taken" in C17: Othello
III.ii.296, Emilia says, re. design in the handkerchief,

"I'll have the work ta'en out"
which in most eyes means, "copied."

I'm anxiously awaiting the ideas of others on the probable authenticity
this portrait.

I want to believe it. What a great thrill!  (AND, he looks like a friend
of mine.) What a great story about transmission and preservation of
cultural artifacts! I don't care what it costs, and think the
owner/preserver deserves $100 million. Also I envision a new building at
Stratford, Ontario commissioned and paid for by the Canadian government
and private donors worldwide to hold it.

Also, more Shakespeare and less other stuff at that Festival.

Kezia Vanmeter Sproat, Shameless Bardolator

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew W. White <
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Date:           Friday, 18 May 2001 11:08:06 -0400
Subject:        Re: Possible New Portrait

Having looked up the portrait -- thanks to Richard Regan for the URL! --
pardon me for asking, but the image is dated in the early 1600's (1603?
1605?), a time when Shakespeare would have presumably looked quite a bit
older, given the life expectancies in those days.  The full head of
hair, for instance, is a dead give-away that this guy is quite young
indeed, if he's Shakespeare, and hence the date would be suspect unless
it were explicitly shown to be a copy of a much earlier work.

Just my two cents,
Andy White

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tony Lea <
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Date:           Friday, 18 May 2001 19:46:59 -0400
Subject:        Re: Possible New Portrait

Unfortunately, doubt has been cast (perhaps inevitably) on the
Shakespeare portrait. Canadian galleries (who have VERY limited
acquisition budgets, thanks to government cutbacks) had naturally
expressed reservations about purchasing the piece until its authenticity
could be determined. Following is an article from today's National Post
newspaper describing a textual analyst's skepticism about the label
affixed to the portrait.

May 18, 2001

Portrait's subject may not be Bard, U.S. scholar says
Painting dated 1603: 'Shakspere' label may have been attached later

Charlie Gillis
National Post

Martin Droeshout engraved this likeness of Shakespeare, found on a folio
printed in 1623. There is debate about another likeness, a painting
owned by a Canadian family and dated 1603.

Excitement over a Canadian-owned painting said to depict William
Shakespeare may be entirely unfounded, says an expert in textual
analysis, because the content and condition of a label fixed to its back
casts doubt on its connection to the Bard.

Donald Foster, a Shakespearean scholar and an expert in orthography
[spelling] at Vassar College in the United States, regretfully but
emphatically questioned claims that the portrait is a contemporary
likeness of Shakespeare.

"This is the kind of thing that sends great theories to the gallows,"
Mr.  Foster said after analyzing the language on the label and learning
the words are faded beyond legibility. "I think this family is mistaken
if it thinks it's going to sell the painting for millions."

The painting has been kept for generations by an unnamed Canadian
family, who revealed it last week after determining it dates from
Shakespeare's era.

News of its existence set off a flutter of excitement among scholars and
art collectors, who have long lamented the paucity of contemporary,
realistic images of the playwright.

Dated 1603, the portrait shows a bearded man wearing a dark,
wide-collared tunic and a mild, Mona Lisa-like smile.

The style is consistent with Elizabethan and Stuart portraiture, and the
subject irresistibly recalls images of Shakespeare passed down through
history.

Most intriguing of all is an inscription reportedly written on its back
label -- a label that carbon dating has confirmed dates back to
Shakespeare's era, as does the painting itself.

"Shakspere," the withered piece of linen is said to read, "born April 23
1564, Died April 23 1616, Aged 52. This Likeness taken 1603, Age at that
time 39 ys."

The trouble is, says Mr. Foster, the style and spelling of this
inscription are distinctly mid-19th century.

"Basically, the orthography [spelling] there is entirely modern," he
said in an interview from Vassar, a prestigious liberal arts college in
Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

"That doesn't say anything at all, of course, about when the portrait
was painted. But it's obvious to me that the attribution wasn't made in
Shakespeare's lifetime."

To start with, he argued, birthdates were so seldom recorded or noted in
Shakespeare's time that, "I doubt anyone but his mother actually knew
what day it was, including himself."

Shakespeare's birthdate was posthumously deduced from church records of
his christening, he noted.

Also, the eccentric spelling of his name was first recorded on the
poet's own will, which he signed "Shakspere." It is another clue, Mr.
Foster believes, that the inscription was added after his death.

Finally, he could find no evidence of the abbreviation "ys." used in
place of years before the 19th century.

All of the factors cast doubt on the authenticity of the note, said Mr.
Foster, who has built a career analyzing usage and spelling through the
ages. He has been called as an expert court witness to identify the
authors of documents, and is best known for publicly identifying the
pseudonymous author of Primary Colors, a book based on the career of
Bill Clinton, the former U.S. president, based on the writing style of
the author, Joe Klein.

More troubling still to Mr. Foster, a professor of English literature at
Vassar, is the basic illegibility of the writing itself, which hampered
attempts by government experts to authenticate it.

Dr. Marie-Claude Corbeil, a senior conservation scientist with the
government-run Canadian Conservation Institute, said that while the
label material could be carbon dated, the characters were faded beyond
use.  Applying ultraviolet and infrared light to increase contrast
helped little, she said.

The laboratory identified parts of the inscription, she said, based on a
1909 version recounted by A. M. Spielmann, an expert on Shakespeare
iconography who examined the painting nine decades ago.

"We could make out some of the words because we knew what they were
supposed to say," she said.

"We didn't analyze the ink because there was too little there. It would
have been impossible."

Mr. Spielmann's 1909 estimation of the painting's age -- about 70 years
-- has since been proven wrong, as have his other theories about it.

His fallibility adds to the overall uncertainty about the subject
depicted, said Mr. Foster.

"What we're looking at is a reported version of the text by someone
whose information cannot be verified and who's been wrong in the past,"
he sighed.  "I think this is the final blow."

_______________________________________________________________
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