The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1863 Thursday, 26 July 2001
Date: Thursday, July 26, 2001
Subject: Possible Portrait
Yesterday's *Washington Post* (Wednesday, July 25, 2001; Page C01)
contained the article "The Bard, or Bogus?: A 1603 Painting in Toronto
Purports to Show the Young William Shakespeare" by DeNeen L. Brown. This
article can be found online at
Below are a few excerpts from it:
Is it he or not he? Whether it is the noble bard himself, captured by a
painter's hand . . . that is the question.
Here in the Art Gallery of Ontario a portrait hangs. Some say it may
indeed be the young face of William Shakespeare. And if they prove to be
right, the picture may be the only one of him painted while he was still
Indeed the man in the painting looks as though he probably was a
somebody. And indeed his hair is auburn and receding above the temples.
His eyes are blue and maybe insightful, following his onlookers around
the gallery. Slight bags hang beneath. The hair on his chin is wispy,
almost young. The lips are small, thin and faint. The face seems to be
The owner says the portrait was painted by an ancestor named John
Sanders, who may have been an actor in a theatrical company owned by
Shakespeare. The family said Sanders had small roles and sometimes
painted. The owner told the Globe and Mail that the painting was taken
to Canada from England by his grandfather in the early 1900s. For years,
the painting hung in his family's dining room and, when he was younger,
it resided under his grandmother's bed. Family legend says that
Shakespeare didn't actually sit for the painting, that the painter may
have been able to capture him perhaps from a sketch or from memory.
Blake says, "One of the interesting things about the Sanders portrait is
it doesn't seem to be altered." And the lack of retouching has raised
curiosity and hope.
Much of the suspicion centers on the rag label glued to the back of the
wooden panel -- a barely legible inscription in ink has been determined
to say: "Shakspere Born April 23-1563 Died April 23-1616 Aged 52 This
Likeness taken 1603 Age at that time 39 yrs".
Alexander Leggatt, a Shakespeare scholar at the University of Toronto,
says: "I think the main problem -- and the main reason why the jury is
still out and may be out forever is that inscription, because it is
very, very informative, and so informative you wonder if somebody is
trying to prove something. There have been two objections raised to it,
which I know of, neither of which is decisive but they're both worth
taking seriously. One is that it's very precise about his age and at
that time people were not always very clear about not only how old other
people were, but how old they were."
The other question was raised over the phrase "This likeness taken."
The phrase, Leggatt says, "can't be traced to Oxford English Dictionary
earlier than the 18th century. And that's, again, a very interesting
objection, not decisive because the Oxford English Dictionary is not
infallible on something like this."
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