The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0249 Thursday, 30 March 2006
From: Sara Fink <
Date: Wednesday, 29 Mar 2006 17:26:01 -0500
Subject: Chandos Portrait Probably Genuine
Comment: SHK 17.0243 Chandos Portrait Probably Genuine
Thanks, Joe Egert, for the details on the Dugdale; I didn't have those
Bill Lloyd wrote: To return for a moment to John Taylor, the purported
painter of the Chandos Portrait: is the portrait actually signed by him?
Or does the association with the Chandos of this member of the
Painter-Stainer's company derive only from the coincidence of his name
with the Davenant-Betterton-Vertue gossip that the portrait was painted
by one "John Taylor an actor in Shakespeare's company"? Perhaps this is
answered in Mary Edmond's magazine article on the Chandos, but I don't
have easy access to it-- has it been reprinted anywhere?
I happen to have a xerox here, and I don't believe it has been
reprinted. No, the painting is not signed (or dated; date is estimated
from costume and style of presentation--a now faint architectural arch
in background, as I recall. Edmond's article doesn't deal with the ca.
1610 date; I think Roy Strong's massive Tudor and Jacobean Portraits does.)
Yes, the tie to this painter is through the Vertue notebook, but I
wouldn't call this gossip. Vertue talked to the current owner in 1719,
a Mr. Keck (barrister of Inner Temple), who had bought it from
Betterton's estate after Betterton died. But he had known Betterton, as
Vertue's notes make clear. There are two entries, and in the first
entry information Vertue didn't initially have is filled in later with
different ink, and names spelled incorrectly at first are spelled
correctly in the second entry. Burbage's name as painter, originally
written in the margin of the first entry, is crossed out. (by the way
Edmond says the printed version of Vertue's notebooks by the Walpole
Society is misleading about these entries).
By Vertue's second entry he had visited Mr. Keck, who told Vertue that
Betterton had told Keck several times he had gotten the painting from
Davenant, who had gotten it left to him by John Taylor when Taylor died.
(This is the substance of the second entry.) Both entries identify John
Taylor as a player (that name is written in above the main line in the
corrected first entry, which has the crossed out "Burbridge" in the margin).
Edmond infers that the name "John Taylor," clearly indicated several
times by Betterton to Keck, is more reliable than the "player"
identification. Going on the fairly strong identification of "John
Taylor" as the painter, Edmond located a painter by that name who would
have been working and in his thirties probably at the time the Chandos
was painted (this age estimate is based chiefly on his appearance in the
guild portrait of officers from 1631-32, which still survives although
most of the annual paintings of officers don't. In that he has just a
touch of gray at his temples; if you think that could indicate late 40s,
he might have been in his 20s ca. 1610). Records for John Taylor go
back to the earliest minute books of the Painters-Stainers still extant
(1623), by which time he was a "leading member of the Company" (146).
He served in a more senior position in 1635-6 and as Master in 1643-4.
There are more details if you want them, but I won't include them here.
The Chandos is a competent portrait and looks like the work of a
professional (though not highly expert) painter. Not a Van Dyck by any
means, but significantly better than Burbage's self-portrait (or the
Sanders, or the Grafton). (That evaluation is mine, not Edmond's.)
Edmond did look up Taylor's will (he died in 1651), which doesn't have
much detail and doesn't include mention of any painting. Davenant was
in the Tower at the time so it would not have been good to name him in a
legal document in any case. Taylor's desire that the painting go to
Davenant probably went from "by will of John Taylor" to "in the will of
John Taylor." Edmond concludes that whoever handled Taylor's estate
after he died, either his wife and executor Elizabeth or the overseer (a
Patrick Barret) would have held the painting until Davenant was released
from imprisonment. The "John Taylor" painter identification stated by
Betterton to Keck must have come directly from Davenant. Davenant was
only 10 when Shakespeare died (and living in Oxford, not London), and
Betterton wasn't born until 19 years later, so Davenant as well as
Betterton "could easily have been vague about a 'John Taylor' dating
back to the time of Shakespeare's working life in London" (149).
If the identification had been just gossip, it seems to me Burbage's
name would have been the result (the name Vertue initially wrote down
then crossed out).
The somewhat surprising element to me is that the portrait was,
according to this information, in the hands of John Taylor when Taylor
died (something the Chandos shares with the recent candidate of the
Sanders, which also seems to have been kept by the painter). That
suggests that either these portraits -- whoever the sitters might be --
were not commissioned by the sitter but were painted because the painter
wanted to portray the sitter, or the paintings were not satisfactory --
or perhaps they were returned to the painter at the sitter's death? I
don't have any way to evaluate those different scenarios.
By the way, in Vertue's first entry he originally had "the only
Original", but "the only" is crossed out and "one" inserted above.
Maybe this was a version that Taylor kept, and Shakespeare also had one.
Or maybe Vertue thought there was another painting from some other
sitting (peripheral information, that he doesn't mention in his second
entry). I have no idea how likely or unlikely that is, and Edmond
doesn't discuss that particular correction.
Hope this helps you to evaluate the claim.
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