The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0305 Monday, 10 April 2006
Date: Friday, 7 Apr 2006 12:11:50 EDT
Subject: Chandos Portrait Probably Genuine
If I may take the liberty of quoting it in full, here is a letter to the
editor of the TLS just published. I quote the letter instead of giving
the URL, as the letter will disappear from the free-access on-line TLS
sampling in about a week, as has the letter to which it is a reply.
"Sir, -- Tarnya Cooper says that I am "wrong" to question the 1600-1610
date attached to the Chandos portrait in the National Portrait Gallery's
Searching for Shakespeare exhibition (Letters, March 31). But in default
of decisive evidence this must be a matter of weighing up probabilities
rather than achieving certainty. All the portraits discussed in Dr
Cooper's essay on "Portrait Painting in England around 1600" are on wood
panel, while "Chandos" is on canvas. Canvas was coming into use in
England in the early 1600s, but I believe its use for portraits was not
at all common until the later Jacobean period. And as Cooper herself
observes in the catalogue, a "feigned oval" as early as 1610 "would have
been a relatively new format", despite its deployment in the far more
splendid 1595 portrait (on panel) of John Donne. She ignores my
suggestion that "Chandos" could be a copy made from an ad vivum original
for Burbage's King's Men successor Joseph Taylor in 1619/20, being
acquired by Davenant after Taylor's death in 1652. The dates fit. This
theory also has the merit of accommodating the testimonies of Vertue and
Oldys. Abbreviation of Joseph Taylor's name to "Jo:" may explain
Vertue's reference to him as "John".
It was precisely for the benefit of the exhibition's "general audience"
that I felt that transcriptions of visible manuscript texts would be
desirable. I am delighted to hear that these are available, though not
in evidence at the Press View.
Somerville College, Oxford."
To me the suggestion that the John Taylor of the tradition is a
mis-expansion of "Jo: Taylor", i.e. King's actor Joseph Taylor, a known
associate of Davenant, makes a lot of sense. The assignment of the
Chandos to Painter-Stainer warden John Taylor is at best questionable.
The painting is not signed, and there is no record of this John Taylor
associating with Shakespeare or Davenant. Vertue said Betterton told him
that Davenant told him of John Taylor-- and none of them spoke of this
Painter-Stainer but rather of an actor in Shakespeare's company.
That there was a Painter-Stainer at that time named John Taylor, and
that there was a member of the Children of Paul's in 1594-98 named John
Taylor is not at all surprising. Taylor was then, as now, an extremely
common surname, and John was the first name of 15-20% of the men in
England. In Dave Kathman's Biographical Index of English Drama Before
1660 <http://shakespeareauthorship.com/bd/>, there are five John Taylors
with theatrical associations. None of them can be connected with
Shakespeare's company, although there are relatively copious records of
the significant members of that company. The suggestion that a portrait
of Shakespeare was commissioned or owned by an otherwise unknown,
marginal member of the company smacks of special pleading, and the
suggestion that the Paul's boy grew up to be the Painter-Stainer is a
desperate guess. All in all, it seems to me that the presence of a John
Taylor in the Painter-Stainer's company, and in the Children of Paul's
is mere coincidence, as there were John Taylors thick on the ground. If
the Taylor in the Vertue pedigree is meant to be the actor Joseph, then
there is no reason to assign the Chandos to Painter-Stainer warden John
Taylor (for whom no comparative material survives), and the painter of
the portrait should be considered unknown.
By the way, I don't think it's been mentioned here (though I could have
overlooked it) that the book Searching for Shakespeare, based on the
exhibition of that name and its catalog, has just been published by Yale
University Press. If nothing else, it is filled with beautiful
reproductions (with analyses) of the various Shakespeare portraits and
other images and documents, as well as several useful essays. At $60
it's a bit expensive in an absolute sense, but considering all the color
reproductions (as well as the outrageous prices of current academic
books) it's worth it.
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