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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: April ::
Re: Portrait of Southampton
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1190  Tuesday, 30 April 2002

[1]     From:   Martin Green <
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        Date:   Monday, 29 Apr 2002 11:28:59 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1171 Re: Portrait of Southampton

[2]     From:   Rainbow Saari <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 30 Apr 2002 07:48:14 +1200
        Subj:   RE Portrait of Southampton

[3]     From:   Jan Pick <
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        Date:   Monday, 29 Apr 2002 20:57:14 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1171 Re: Portrait of Southampton


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Green <
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Date:           Monday, 29 Apr 2002 11:28:59 -0400
Subject: 13.1171 Re: Portrait of Southampton
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1171 Re: Portrait of Southampton

It's possible, isn't it, that the painting is of a boy actor dressed for
a female part?

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Rainbow Saari <
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Date:           Tuesday, 30 Apr 2002 07:48:14 +1200
Subject:        RE Portrait of Southampton

I'm in agreement with Tanya Gough and the others who have recently
commented on the modern perceptions and values of the writer of the
Observer's article on this portrait.

It seems to me to be of an androgynous looking individual, probably a
young man, very similiar in features to the 3rd Earl of Southampton as
we know him from the Hilliard miniature and the de Critz portrait. I do
not believe any attempt to cross-dress is indicated in the portrait; the
sitter's doublet appears to be in the same style as that of both  the
miniature and Tower portrait. That it is a man's doublet and not the
bodice of a woman's dress  is suggested to me by what is visible  of
the  sitter's neck where it opens at the  collar ( in all three
paintings a 'falling band'). The neckline of all three likenesses is
very similar, though the collar in the Cobbe Portrait is certainly the
most ornate.

This neckline is common enough in many portraits of men during this
period.  Though I am no expert, I don't recall seeing it before in
contemporary portraits of women. (Or the completely undressed, unadorned
hair either, until c. 1605) Ruffs were still very much in vogue for the
aristocratic woman, and the paintings of that era that I have access to
amongst my own books and the portraits I've found on the internet of
that period don't show women choosing to be imortalised in a style of
clothing more common to men of the period.  I'm with Jan Pick on this;
if there's any cross-dressing taking place I'd say it is of a woman
imitating a man in dress. I'd be interested to hear from others with
more expertise in this area.

The National Portrait Gallery's website has a painting ( NPG 487) of
Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury, in the style of Isaac
Oliver, circa 1603-1605 which shows the Baron in virtually the same
pose, wearing an extremely similar Venetian (? ) lace falling band, with
matching cuffs,  as the sitter in this supposed Southampton portrait.
There is, however, nothing womanly about him.
The Victoria and Albert Museum has amongst its School of Isaac Oliver
paintings, one of a man 'called Sir Phillip Sidney'. In this painting (
a miniature, I think ) this sitter has his right hand over his heart,
and the neckline matches that of the *Southampton* portrait, though the
similarly large falling band appears to be more starched. ( Haven't been
able to gain an  online look at this one.)

I doubt that Sidney, the  Baron  or their contemporaries would have
thought their pose would be read as anything like what we might call
'camp'.

The sitter's  'elaborate double earring' is certainly intriguing. It
looks like a true-love-knot and combined with the pose of the sitter,
right hand over their heart, suggests that the portrait has a theme ie;
" I will always be constant or true to you".  Though the hand over the
heart pose can be interpreted as ' constancy/ loyalty in friendship'
(Sidney, Baron Herbert ), speculation upon the possible romantic/erotic
nature of the portrait is perhaps supported by the fact that the sitter
is holding their long tresses in the hand that is held over their heart.
(Okay, I'm getting ready to dodge missiles now.)

Shakespeare does refer to the custom of wearing a true-love knot;

Two Gentlemen of Verona, 2.7

JULIA;       Gentle Lucetta, fit me with such weeds  As may beseem some
well-reputed page.
LUCETTA Why, then, your ladyship must cut your hair.
JULIA         No, girl,* I'll knit it up in silken strings
                    With twenty odd-conceited true-love knots. *
                    To be fantastic may become a youth
                    Of greater time than I shall show to be.

Hard to tell if the sitter's face is 'painted'. I believe that
Southampton was The Rose of Shakespeare's Sonnets . As Clifford Stetner
notes, the remarks made about 'painting' in the poems do seem to suggest
that Shakespeare did not approve of his Rose's practice of painting his
face, a practice that was common enough among both fashionable men and
women.

In Much Ado About Nothing, 3.2,  there is this exchange about Benedick,
who is being teased about being in love

DON PEDRO       Nay, a' rubs himself with civet: can you smell him out
by that?
CLAUDIO            That's as much as to say, the sweet youth's in love.
DON PEDRO       The greatest note of it is his melancholy.
CLAUDIO           And when was he wont to wash his face?
DON PEDRO       Yea, or to *paint* himself? for the which, I hear what
they say of him.
CLAUDIO Nay, but his jesting spirit; which is now crept into a
lute-string and now governed by stops.
DON PEDRO       Indeed, that tells a heavy tale for him: conclude,
conclude he is in love.

When they speak of his unaccustomed washing of his face, along with his
painting of himself,  they refer, I believe, to the use of a mercury
'wash', the equivalent of the present day 'face-peel'.  This was a
highly toxic  and in the long term damaging procedure for whitening the
skin of the face to achieve the fashionable 'look'.

It will be interesting to see if more emerges about the pale- faced,
rose-lipped sitter of this portrait.

Cheers all,
Rainbow Saari

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jan Pick <
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Date:           Monday, 29 Apr 2002 20:57:14 +0100
Subject: 13.1171 Re: Portrait of Southampton
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1171 Re: Portrait of Southampton

Lot of fuss over this portrait!  As an historian - 16th/17th century
specialism - it always amazes me how little understanding of
Shakespeare's world is fully understood by literary and art experts.
They seem to leap into print without bothering to do any in depth
research!  On the homosexuality question - Shakespeare was not
homosexual - he had wife and children (fact) and possible other affairs
with women.  He may well have been bi-sexual - in fact he probably was.
The only interest in the subject is the light it throws on his ability
to depict emotion - male and female - so well.

Jan

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