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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: September ::
Janssen Portrait at the Folger Library
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0471  Tuesday, 1 September 2009

[1] From:   Hannibal Hamlin <
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     Date:   Tuesday, 1 Sep 2009 11:59:40 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0465 Janssen Portrait at the Folger Library

[2] From:   Hardy M. Cook <
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     Date:   Monday, 31 Aug 2009 16:14:46 -0400
     Subj:   SHK 20.0465 Janssen Portrait at the Folger Library


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Hannibal Hamlin <
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Date:       Tuesday, 1 Sep 2009 11:59:40 -0400
Subject: 20.0465 Janssen Portrait at the Folger Library
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0465 Janssen Portrait at the Folger Library

All  --

Hardy is obviously looking into this more closely than I have, and I 
look forward to seeing his review, but readers might be interested in a 
letter to TLS from Erin Blake, Art Curator at the Folger, in response to 
another letter on the Cobbe portrait.

http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/the_tls/article6096184.ece

There's also a very good article on it by Katherine Duncan-Jones that 
can be linked from the bottom of Erin's letter.

To me, the evidence for the Cobbe being Shakespeare seems tenuous at 
best. The hunt for true-to-life pictures of Shakespeare seems part of 
the cult of bardolatry, based, as the Post article demonstrates, on a 
Romantic unwillingness to accept that Shakespeare did not look like 
Errol Flynn. There is also present a peculiar kind of historical myopia, 
which assumes that any 16th-17th c. portrait of a bald man must be of 
Shakespeare. How is it that no one ever discovers a new portrait of Joe 
Shmoe? As Lukas Erne pointed out in a wonderful article, the same 
illogic lies behind the attribution of the so-called portrait of 
Marlowe. The only evidence it is him is that it was found at his 
college. But we desperately desire an image, so we ignore the 
possibility that it could be any number of other people.

Ultimately, of course, it makes not a hoot of difference what 
Shakespeare looked like. The plays remain the same. But I guess it makes 
a great deal of difference to the value of Alec Cobbe's collection.

Hannibal

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Hardy M. Cook <
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Date:       Monday, 31 Aug 2009 16:14:46 -0400
Subject: Janssen Portrait at the Folger Library
Comment:    SHK 20.0465 Janssen Portrait at the Folger Library

I don't seem to have followed the arguments as closely as Hannibal give 
me credit for since I made a blushingly major error in my post of 
yesterday for which I have been gently corrected by one involved.

The Cobbe portrait is the archetypal image. The point that was being 
made in the article, "Waiting for William" by Sally Jenkins, in 
yesterday's _Washington Post Magazine_ was that the Janssen portrait at 
the Folger Shakespeare Library might be a portrait of Shakespeare with 
the alterations in the hairline possibly taking place much earlier than 
had been supposed.

Although I do not have time to go into it all here, the book 
_Shakespeare Found_ explains that an x-ray of the Cobbe taken in 2002 
reveals that the hairline in the Cobbe was extended from the one 
originally painted, that the Cobbe with extended hairline was copied by 
the FitzGerald, the Ellenborough, and the Folger, that the Folger copy 
was altered to introduce baldness, that the Folger or similar was copied 
six times with baldness copied, including by the Dorchester, and that 
the Dorchester was painted between 1624-1664, the years Dorchester was 
collecting paintings. The Post piece was emphasizing these later points, 
concluding that the alterations in the Folger copy were made during the 
lifetime of people who knew what Shakespeare looked like with the 
implication being that Shakespeare got increasing more bald as he aged 
and that baldness was incorporated in Janssen portrait.

The TLS letter from Erin C. Blake that Hannibal Hamlin calls our 
attention to notes that the jury is out as to the date the Dorchester 
was painted and the date of the alterations in the Folger copy were made.

Erin C. Blake in the Sunday article also reports that "This fall, it 
[the Janssen portrait] will be removed to the Smithsonian Museum 
Conservation Institute in an attempt to date the paint that made the 
sitter appear bald. In the meantime, it has been hung in a more 
prominent spot, a wall in the Founders' Room, so the public can view it. 
  The tests are unlikely to put the matter to rest."

She concludes: "It is a big if," Blake says.  "Certainly as a curator in 
charge of portraits purporting to be Shakespeare, it doesn't actually 
change anything, because they're all Shakespeare. . . .  What people 
have in their head as the image of Shakespeare, well, in a way it's a 
very personal thing."

The Post article also quotes Jonathan Bate: "Still, Bate refuses to rule 
out the possibility the portraits are authentic because of the 
intriguing nature of the Folger-Dorchester argument. If it could be 
proved that the Folger was altered to look like Shakespeare in the 
mid-1600s, he says, 'that would be really interesting and surprising.'"

I do not claim to be an expert or to understand all of the intricacies 
of everyone's separate arguments. I do, however, think that Prof. Wells 
and his team deserve to have their detailed and well-developed arguments 
heard and not simply dismissed out of hand as some of his/their critics 
have done.

Hardy

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