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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: May ::
New Portrait of Shakespeare?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0255  Wednesday, 20 May 2009

[1] From:   Hugh Grady <
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     Date:   Monday, 18 May 2009 15:36:23 -0400
     Subj:   RE: SHK 20.0243 New Portrait of Shakespeare?

[2] From:   Larry Weiss <
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     Date:   Monday, 18 May 2009 17:00:04 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0243 New Portrait of Shakespeare?

[3] From:   Jess Winfield <
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     Date:   Monday, 18 May 2009 16:03:09 -0700
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0243 New Portrait of Shakespeare?

[4] From:   Bob Grumman <
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     Date:   Monday, 18 May 2009 18:46:06 -0500
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0243 New Portrait of Shakespeare?

[5] From:   Lynn Brenner <
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     Date:   Monday, 18 May 2009 22:55:01 EDT
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0243 New Portrait of Shakespeare?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Hugh Grady <
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Date:       Monday, 18 May 2009 15:36:23 -0400
Subject: 20.0243 New Portrait of Shakespeare?
Comment:    RE: SHK 20.0243 New Portrait of Shakespeare?

I thought that the pictures reproduced in TLS this spring illustrating 
Catherine Duncan-Jones' contention that the Cobbe portrait is actually 
of Overbury, not Shakespeare, were -- visually speaking -- quite 
convincing of her hypothesis. I would have to try to retrieve that issue 
to be more specific, and I will try to do so this week, unless someone 
on the list beats me to it. I wonder if they can be electronically 
reproduced on the listserv? I'm sure members would be interested.
  -- Hugh Grady

[Editor's Note: Hugh, these are just the sort of things I want to 
include on the portion of the server I will be setting up. I lost access 
to the TLS archive over a billing issue -- the billing is straight but I 
have not yet gotten back into the archives, but I followed the link that 
Lynn Brenner supplied in her post at the end of this digest. I also have 
three images of Overbury from the National Portrait gallery and an 
another copy of the Bodliean portrait of Overbury. As to the issue of 
how these will be made available. For now, I will be giving a list of 
links to a public directory under one of my accounts. However, when the 
new web site design is complete, I am hoping that I will be able to make 
many sorts of audio, video, and visual content available. More to come 
about the new design in the near future, I hope. --Hardy]

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Larry Weiss <
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Date:       Monday, 18 May 2009 17:00:04 -0400
Subject: 20.0243 New Portrait of Shakespeare?
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0243 New Portrait of Shakespeare?

Please, Hardy, would you make clear that you do not believe that the 
only cause (or even most usual cause) of hair loss is venereal disease.

And it would hardly be peculiar for an active man to gain weight when he 
retires and rusticates.

That said, I have no opinion about the portrait, and care not a whit.

[Editor's Note: Yes, indeed, Larry, as blessed as I am with a long mane 
of mostly my original colored hair (Thanks, Mom, for the great genes, 
wherever you are), I was not trying to imply that VD was the only reason 
for one's balding. My copy of _Shakespeare Found_ arrived and indeed 
from my 47 second perusal there appear to be reproductions of all the 5 
portraits. So more on this later. --Hardy]

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Jess Winfield <
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Date:       Monday, 18 May 2009 16:03:09 -0700
Subject: 20.0243 New Portrait of Shakespeare?
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0243 New Portrait of Shakespeare?

As one who has studied, as an amateur, the various portraits, their 
history, and the history of the scholarly debate around them, I  will 
simultaneously answer Hardy's call and risk his wrath by offering  an 
amateur's common-sense assessment of the Cobbe claims. Following 
Hardy's headings for The Evidence:

I. If this trail of evidence proves anything it is merely that the 
painting once belonged to Southampton. The delineation of the trail from 
Southampton to Shakespeare is circumstantial at best.

II.  The sitter having been identified as "a playwright" in the 17th 
century doesn't distinguish it from any of the other legitimate 
contenders, Droeshout, Chandos or the Monument. In fact, they have much 
stronger provenance, having been positively identified as Shakespeare in 
the same century.

The argument about the inscription posited here and on the Birthplace 
Trust's site -- that, a: Shakespeare's company was involved in political 
intrigues; b. this painting has an inscription that suggests political 
intrigue; c. therefore this is likely a painting of Shakespeare -- 
sounds worthy of an Oxfordian. (DeVere's family had similarities to 
Polonius' . . . )

To my mind, given the tenuous evidence of I. and II., the best measure 
by which we may determine whether this is a portrait of Shakespeare  -- 
  never mind the question of whether it was done in his lifetime  --  is 
  visual. I have never bought the argument that the Cobbe or its copies 
  was in any way a model or source for the Droeshout or the Monument. 
My objections:

1. Hairline and weight. One must posit Shakespeare's family and/or 
associates saying "he looked like that, but balding and much heavier" 
to Gerard Johnson, but "he looked like that, but balding, skip the 
heavier" to Droeshout. Not that this couldn't have happened; but it  is 
in the realm of sheer speculation.

2. Other discernible differences. Side by side comparisons of Cobbe and 
Droeshout show obvious differences beyond the hairline. Droeshout's 
renderings of the eyes are much rounder; Droeshout's nose  broader at 
the bridge and a bit bulbous at the end, where Cobbe's is perfectly 
aquiline; the nostrils of entirely different shape and angle; 
Droeshout's upper lip thin and straight, where Droeshout's is fleshy and 
has a pronounced pout in the middle. My eyes see infinitely more in 
common among the Chandos, Droeshout and Monument images than between ANY 
of those and Cobbe.

3. The inescapable age issue. To speak as a layman: no way dude in the 
painting is 46.

For a portrait to make a claim of authenticity that attempts to trump 
all other long-established contenders, it had better have superior, or 
at least comparable, evidence to back it up. I don't see that yet. Like 
Hardy, I look forward to reading the book.

Jess Winfield

[Editor's Note: I hope that I had not implied that I would release my 
wrath on anyone. In fact, I think over the years, I have, considering my 
actual disposition, seldom had anyone come between me and my wrath. 
Heck, I must be mellowing: I let two references to the D-word through 
today.]

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Bob Grumman <
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Date:       Monday, 18 May 2009 18:46:06 -0500
Subject: 20.0243 New Portrait of Shakespeare?
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0243 New Portrait of Shakespeare?

First, a thank you to Hardy for his very helpful remarks. Complicated 
issue. I want to focus on just one aspect, the inscription. (Apologies 
for asking questions no doubt already answered, but I missed the 
answers, or didn't absorb them, if there have been some.)  1. Was the 
inscription part of the original portrait? 2. What was normal back there 
with regard to inscriptions? Were they usually oblique? 3. If the 
portrait is of Shakespeare, and was deemed worth keeping for centuries, 
why wasn't his name on it?
Can't keep from adding subjective thoughts: the man in the portrait 
could easily be 46. Some people stay young, especially if slightly 
idealized by a painter. Can we be sure the portrait was not a copy of 
some portrait of its subject from twenty years previous?

Frankly, I just don't like the portrait, so I'm biased against its being 
of Shakespeare. I also require more direct evidence of things than most 
people do, and there's none in this case. But I don't reject the 
attribution. Wanna learn more.

  -- Bob

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Lynn Brenner <
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Date:       Monday, 18 May 2009 22:55:01 EDT
Subject: 20.0243 New Portrait of Shakespeare?
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0243 New Portrait of Shakespeare?

 >Looking at these definitions, I have begun to wonder if I should have
 >permitted a question of faith in the first place, but I did and will try
 >to see if scholarly exchange is still possible.

My response to Hardy's question was indeed colored by its wording.

I jumped at a question about 'wholehearted and unreserved belief' as an 
invitation to express my gut feeling, not as an invitation to discuss 
the evidence.

But yes, I had read Professor Wells's 'Shakespeare Found' summary on the 
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust website; the New York Times article 
(http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/10/world/europe/10shakespeare.html?_r=1 
); Ron Rosenbaum's piece in Slate (http://www.slate.com/id/2214734/ ); 
the discussion about the portrait on SHAKSPER to date; and Katherine 
Duncan-Jones's article in the TLS, which makes a persuasive case for 
Thomas Overbury as the portrait's subject. 
(http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/the_tls/article5931174.ece 
).

Based on what I've read, I don't doubt that the original painting was 
owned by Southampton, and that it descended to the Cobbe family.

But what is the evidence that Shakespeare sat for it?

--   'Traditions' dating back to the 17th century -- traditions which 
may have been enhanced by alterations in the Folger copy of the Cobbe 
painting to make it look more like the Droeshout engraving;

--  an inscription on the Folger copy giving the sitter's age as 46 and 
the date of the picture as 1610. (He looks a good deal younger; and even 
if the inscription is authentic, there were other 46 year-olds in 1610.)

--  an inscription (which may have been added later) originally 
addressed to a playwright, warning about dangers of trusting the 
powerful. This is an all-purpose warning that might appropriately be 
addressed to many an Elizabethan/Jacobean courtier. But to Shakespeare? 
His company was involved in the Essex uprising only to the extent of 
being commissioned to put on a performance of Richard II; and neither he 
nor the company suffered for it. The government took its reprisals 
against those who had paid for the performance; so to whatever extent 
the playwright trusted the powerful, his faith would seem more justified 
than not.

This is all circumstantial evidence, at best.

And there are compelling reasons not to believe the Cobbe portrait is of 
Shakespeare.

The man in the portrait is a nobleman, far more elegantly and 
expensively dressed than we would expect Shakespeare to be. (As 
Katherine Duncan-Jones points out, even Shakespeare's status as a 
'gentleman' was repeatedly called into question during his lifetime.)

And to the human eye, there is no resemblance between the Cobbe portrait 
and the Droeshout engraving -- a picture that was accepted as resembling 
Shakespeare by people who had known him, as others on the list have 
pointed out.

I don't know why the Cobbe and the Droeshout look like a perfect match 
when one is superimposed on the other on a computer; but I'm reminded of 
the computer program that insisted on Shakespeare's authorship of the 
dreadful 'funeral elegy' a few years ago.

Moreover, as Katherine Duncan-Jones points out, "An authentic portrait 
of Sir Thomas Overbury (1581 -- 1613) was bequeathed to the Bodleian 
Library in Oxford in 1740. This picture bears a startling resemblance to 
the "Cobbe" painting (and its companions)." If you click on the link to 
her article, which I posted above, you can see both paintings and assess 
the resemblance yourself; I think 'startling' is the mot juste.

Of course Hardy is right in suggesting that I'm influenced by 
familiarity with the Droeshout.

My instinctive reaction to the Cobbe portrait when I first saw it was to 
reject it -- as too wealthy, too aristocratic, too good-looking, and 
above all, not a portrait of the man in the Droeshout engraving.

Nevertheless, I would love to see a life portrait of Shakespeare and I 
read the arguments in favor of the Cobbe portrait with great interest, 
hoping to find some persuasive evidence. I didn't find it.

Finally, although I may have stated my disbelief too emphatically for 
courtesy, I certainly didn't mean to imply that the claims for the Cobbe 
portrait don't deserve to be widely circulated and discussed. Of course 
they do.

Lynn Brenner

[Editor's Note: Actually, it was not my question but Louis W. 
Thompson's. I was not suggesting that Lynn herself was necessarily 
influenced by the Droeshout but that it is difficult not to think that 
it is the defining image of the poet/playwright. The YouTube U of 
Warwick video interview with Stanley Wells has the computer 
superimpositon for anyone interested. Thank you, Lynn and the others who 
contributed to this digest. Although I could quibble with a number of 
the points that have been brought up, I am delighted at the substance of 
these contributions to the discussion and have had more than enough to 
say for the time being. --Hardy]


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