The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0225  Monday, 27 March 2006

From: 		Sara Fink <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date: 		Fri, 24 Mar 2006 23:59:54 -0500
Subject: Chandos Portrait Probably Genuine
Comment: 	SHK 17.0138 Chandos Portrait Probably Genuine

Sandra Sparks wrote: "As for the Chandos portrait: again, as I have 
stated earlier, the portrait was owned by William Davenant, who claimed 
he was the bastard son of WS. He was right on the bastard part, but not 
on the son title. I do not believe he should be taken at his word; I 
think he either found a suitable portrait of an unknown man, or somehow 
commissioned this."

The claim of bastard son is based on the unreliable John Aubrey, who 
reports it in his life of Davenant; other reports postdate this and the 
rumor that circulated after Davenant's death may be based on Aubrey's 
report and nothing more.  Aubrey implied that Davenant had imbibed a lot 
of alcohol when making this claim (I'm relying on Schoenbaum's short 
version of A Compact Documentary Life to refresh my memory here; I 
believe that there's more in the longer version.)

 >And, the memorial bust - I think somewhere, at some time, there
 >existed a death mask that the sculptor worked from. If you
 >compare the bust proportions to the Grafton portrait, you will
 >find the proportions are in line for the transformation of a slender
 >young man into a heavy older man.

This death mask claim has surfaced again recently (because someone has 
used computer analyses to compare it to a bust made 140 years after 
Shakespeare died, in the Garrick Club -- NY Times article at

  [note that address is so long I broke it into 2 lines]

But the death mask showed up in the mid-19th century in Germany; there 
is absolutely nothing linking it to Shakespeare other than someone 
having added to it Shakespeare 1616.  The recent computer analysis (and 
I see there was a discussion of an earlier one on SHAKSPER back in 1995) 
only shows that you can take any two shapes and locate many points of 
similarity, depending on what your criteria are for choosing them (for a 
discussion of this issue one can refer to _Geometric Morphometrics for 
Biologists_; yes I am related to one of the authors and have listened to 
many discussions of the use and abuse of such computer analyses).  The 
kinds of analysis this book discusses can be applied to portraits (so 
the primary author of this book, Miriam Zelditch, tells me, though there 
are interpretive issues).  But one must have at least a three-way 
comparison and be testing which two are more similar than the third.  No 
computer or graphics comparisons I have seen in the literature, 
including this one of the masks and another comparing the Droeshout 
engraving to a portrait (or portraits) of Queen Elizabeth by Lillian 
Schwartz of Bell Labs, uses a method that performs the kind of 
comparison necessary to  say anything justifiable about the relationship 
between the portraits they discuss.  Neither of these comparisons are 
constrained in such a way as to rule out morphing any one face into any 

A change from a slender young man to an older heavier man covers a lot 
of possibilities.  I personally like the Grafton portrait, although the 
sitter seems significantly more round-nosed than the sitter in the 
Chandos (or the Stratford bust, or the Droeshout engraving).  Heck, I 
also have a soft spot for the recent Sanders portrait, and for the 
Hilliard miniature discussed by Hotson (the version in private hands is 
much livelier and more expert in its details than the version in the 
V&A, though).

 >My personal observations. Art experts sometimes make me want to sneeze.

I am not an expert, just someone who has looked into the question of 
portraits with some care (and seen all of the above in person, except 
the Hilliard in private hands and the Grafton.  By the way, I once met 
Mary Edmond, who did such careful work on the Chandos and Droeshout and 
also wrote a book on Hilliard and Oliver with a great deal of detail 
about the London immigrant artist community.   She liked the Grafton 
too.  In her other book, on Sir William Davenant, I am sure she must 
discuss the byblow question.)

Final point about the record of information on the Chandos:  There are 
inaccuracies in Stephanie Nolen's summary in the book centered on the 
Sanders portrait, _Shakespeare's Face_.  Nolen cites Mary Edmond's 
Droeshout article but not the earlier Chandos one (see my previous post 
for these refs)..  She gets color information and dates wrong.  The 
antiquarian George Vertue's notes on the Chandos (as it came to be 
called later), examined by Edmond, date from 1719, so Nolen is wrong (p. 
52) about having to rely on oral tradition prior to 1747, when 
Bardolatry was heating up.  She says the Chandos shows a black-haired 
man, but the very dark color the portrait has now is due to age; earlier 
reports describe the hair as dark auburn, and these are not early so the 
painting had probably darkened some even then (see Friswell, _Life 
Portraits of W Sh_, 1864, reprinted AMS Press 1974).  This is true also 
of 19th century descriptions of the Stratford bust; see Schoenbaum's 
_Records and Images_, p. 160-61.  (It's true also, for that matter, of 
the Sanders portrait, less darkened by age; the Hilliard is a lighter 
reddish blond--blond fitting with Hotson's discussion of the Mercury 
allusions in this portrait, no matter who the sitter was.  Hotson in his 
enthusiasm constantly overstated the strength of his cases, but the 
information he brought to bear was always detailed and well informed by 
his considerable knowledge of texts and contexts.  I except his sonnet 
dating ideas, however, which were doubtful to start with and his 
suggestion that they were completed by ca. 1592 has been shown by 
textual links to language in plays to be hooey.)

_Shakespeare's Face_, by the way, contains informative articles from 
early modern scholars on the fascination with Shakespeare portraits, 
aspects of Shakespeare's London, acting careers, writing careers, and 
portraiture, as well as sections devoted specifically to historiographic 
and forensic information on the Sanders portrait itself.

Yes, there remain uncertainties about the Chandos, but calling the 
identification controversial isn't an accurate representation. 
According to older analyses summarized by Schoenbaum (which will no 
doubt be updated now by the National Portrait Gallery in its new 
exhibition), the paint of the Chandos is thin and the portrait has been 
retouched quite a bit, so exact details of shading and lineation (e.g. 
the strings of the doublet) may not represent their original state.  But 
with the very long history of the Shakespeare identification, and the 
work by Edmond on early provenance and a painter, its claim to 
authenticity is pretty strong.

There are many more uncertainties about the Sanders and the Hilliard 
than about the Chandos, but that doesn't mean they aren't Shakespeare 
(and there are some resemblances between these two to my eye, though the 
Hilliard is much more expertly done).  There's too much uncertainty to 
spend time arguing about these one way or the other; no amount of 
argument can alter the paucity of reliable evidence.  Crucial 
information about the age of the sitter is gone due to damage of one 
side of the Sanders, and the label is nearly illegible (and may well 
have been overwritten in the 18th or 19th century due to fading, a 
different process from forging a fake label--see "The Conundrum of the 
Label" in _Shakespeare's Face_).

I have indirectly addressed some comments in earlier posts without 
quoting from them.

Portraits are what got me back into Shakespeare, and sonnets ...  :-)

Sara Fink
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