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Original Shakespeare Portrait Discovered, Disputed 96

Posted by kdawson
from the never-saw-that-you-did-painting-need dept.
Reader Hugh Pickens sends in news from the NYTimes a few days back of what is believed to be a 400-year-old portrait of William Shakespeare, painted 6 years before his death. No existing portrait, that most experts consider to be genuine, was captured during Shakespeare's lifetime. "It shows Shakespeare as a far more alluring figure than the solemn-faced, balding image that has been conveyed by previous engravings, busts and portraits. 'His face is open and alive, with a rosy, rather sweet expression, perhaps suggestive of modesty,' said a brochure for an exhibition opening in Stratford. The portrait came to light when Alec Cobbe visited the National Portrait Gallery in London in 2006 to see an exhibition, 'Searching for Shakespeare,' and realized that the Folger portrait, whose authenticity had been doubted for decades, was a copy of the one that had been in his family's art collection since the mid-18th century, with the family unaware that the man depicted might be Shakespeare. Scientific studies at Cambridge showed that the oak panel on which the Cobbe portrait was mounted came from trees felled in the last 20 years of the 16th century, pointing to a date for the painting in the early 1600s." For balance, the New Yorker disputes some of the claims in the NYTimes account, and for good measure tosses in another purported Shakespeare portrait from life, this one discovered 3 years ago in Canada.
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Original Shakespeare Portrait Discovered, Disputed

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  • from the man (Score:4, Interesting)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @12:15AM (#27197749)

    "God has given you one face, and you make yourself another."
    ~ William Shakespeare

  • That which we call a portrait from any other time period would look as similar.

    So this portrait would, were it painted later, retain that dear perfection which it holds without that title.

  • by unity100 (970058) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @12:33AM (#27197809) Homepage Journal

    is WAY too real.

    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by Colonel Korn (1258968)

      is WAY too real.

      You prefer imaginary portraits...?

    • by Reziac (43301) *

      Heh... when last I visited a museum, I was amazed by the lifelike realism of paintings of all sorts from ca. 1600. Some are not readily distinguishable from a photograph. In fact, some are visually akin to the "3-D photography" used as film backdrops, with just a strong an illusion of being 3D.

    • by sgt_doom (655561)

      That is the BARD!! Absolutely! I recognize the guy from waaaaaaay back when we shared a night of fish & chips, kidney pie and some truly godawful ale.

      That's the dood, alright. I remember that one tavern wench who dared bet me I couldn't pronounce the name of that Welsh town, llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

      And when she lost, boy did she ever pay up....best bet I ever made...what we were posting about...I forgot....

  • That's not Shakespeare, it's clearly Sir Francis Bacon.

    • by zippthorne (748122) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @12:56AM (#27197887) Journal

      I don't know about that, but I'll put even money he was less than six degrees from Bacon.

    • That's not Shakespeare, it's clearly Sir Francis Bacon.

      No it's not. It's... it's... it's... Christopher Marlowe!

      Even 400 year later, the loony theories abound.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        > No it's not. It's... it's... it's... Christopher Marlowe!
        >
        > Even 400 years later, the loony theories abound.

        More than you know. One of the original "Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare" proponents was the unfortunately-named J. Thomas Looney*, who said Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, wrote everything, despite the inconvenient fact that de Vere died about nine years before Shakespeare's last recorded play was written.

        *Apparently pronounced "loney", but still... Apparently Looney's publisher

        • Hmm, I'll refrain from saying "whoosh", as it was rather indirect.
          However, I was under the impression that the name "Looney" was pronounced "loony". At least, I knew a fellow (a PhD) with that name and pronunciation. Perhaps it was different in Tudor times.
          Anyway, the loony theories abound, however they are pronounced.
          • I suspected a "whoosh" situation, but I couldn't resist the chance to rip on Looney at (moderate) length. He's fairly recent, too--he published his book in 1920 or so.

        • who said Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, wrote everything, despite the inconvenient fact that de Vere died about nine years before Shakespeare's last recorded play was written.

          Hmmm ... as you might know, the dates of composition for Shakespeare's plays are somewhat in dispute (including, of course, "The Tempest", conventionally dated six or seven years after Oxford died in 1604). And if Shakespeare of Stratford upon Avon's died in 1616, how was he "Our ever-living poet" (i.e. dead) in 1609?

          Personally, though, I'm a Marlovian -- any theory that involves a secret agent writing plays in his spare time, faking his own death to escape execution, and then writing plays of Shakespeare

        • by tabrnaker (741668)
          How exactly is anybody supposed to know when it was written? It may have taken shakespeare 9 years to copy it by hand and then put the play on.

          Not sure about you, but if i was going to steal somebodies work, i'd certainly wait until they're dead to put on the play :)

    • by indi0144 (1264518)

      I've read somewhere that Shakespeare is the surname that Bacon used in literary works. That explains the insights that Shakespeare had with the ruling class and why theres so little info about "Shakespeare" in the crown registries.

      • There's not a lack of information about him in the crown registries.

        1) There's probably more information than we know about. These registries are not the most legible things in the world, and they're not organized particularly well. Honestly they sound like about the worst thing ever to try to decipher.

        2) We know a great deal about Shakespeare compared to almost any other playwright from the time.

        I hesitate to recommend Bill Bryson's work on the subject. He seems to be a popular author, but I don't particul

  • by dwhitaker (1500855) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @12:40AM (#27197837) Homepage
    Whatever the end result is on the authenticity of either of these portraits, it seems every portrait shares the basic physical traits that we collectively think of as "Shakespeare". Moreover, from what I can tell they seem to be in line with his bust in Holy Trinity Church which was erected not terribly long after his death. It seems to me that if any of these portraits/busts/etc. had been far from the mark, there would have been some sort of protest from the people who knew him when he was alive (or commissioned the work). In the end, we will never know exactly what he looks like, but we do have a pretty good idea.
    • by FatdogHaiku (978357) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @01:32AM (#27197997)

      In the end, we will never know exactly what he looks like, but we do have a pretty good idea.

      And it's a pity someone so talented did not write an autobiography... at least then we could have looked at the dust jacket inside the back cover...

    • Normalise the sizes. Pick points on the images which mark particular features (corner of eye for instance) and then average them to reduce the errors.

      e.g.
      http://www.faceresearch.org/demos/average [faceresearch.org]
       

      • by dkf (304284)

        Normalise the sizes. Pick points on the images which mark particular features (corner of eye for instance) and then average them to reduce the errors.

        Won't help if lots of the images are of the wrong people. That would just make the face look more average overall.

    • Your quote made me realize that it has now been many years since I have trusted the realism of any photos. Aside from photos that I remember from the days before shopping, I know that I will never have any idea of exactly how anyone looks.

      PS: I love the GIMP.

    • Whatever the end result is on the authenticity of either of these portraits, it seems every portrait shares the basic physical traits that we collectively think of as "Shakespeare".

      Except that the argument for this portrait being genuine is simply that the others are copies of it! So of course they all look alike! (for example, the painting that brought this most recent discovery to light was the Janssen portrait of Shakespeare, which is accepted to be an Elizabethan portrait of an unknown sitter deliberately doctored about a hundred years after it was painted to look more like Shakespeare (see this article [folger.edu] by the curator of the Folger library ...)

      (And from TFA: "Professor Wells said

  • Shakespeare, Makespeare. Just another bunch of Clichés strung together.
    • by warp1 (231206)

      Shakespeare, Makespeare. Just another bunch of Clichés strung together.

      True and untrue, most of them have morphed into something that is more recognizable by today's standards.

      ... for mine own part, it was Greek to me.
      -- The Tragedy of Julius Caesar Act I, Scene 2
      Has changed to:
      It's all Greek to me

      And

      Something is rotten in the state of Denmark
      -- Hamlet Act 1, scene 4
      Has changed to:
      Something Is R

  • 'Shopped (Score:3, Funny)

    by yotto (590067) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @01:30AM (#27197985) Homepage

    That's totally Photoshopped. I can see the streak marks.

  • How many years old? (Score:5, Informative)

    by a whoabot (706122) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @01:46AM (#27198029)

    Right now the summary reads: "...NYTimes a few days back of what is believed to be a 500-year-old portrait of William Shakespeare, painted 6 years before his death."

    If the portrait is 500 years old, and it was painted 6 years before his death, I believe I'm being told that Shakespeare died in AD 2009 - 500 + 6 = 1515. This page [shakespeare-online.com] says that Shakespeare was born 1564. How could Shakespeare have died before he was born? Even if this is true though, and he lived his entire life and wrote all his works while in his mother's womb and died in there in 1515, how could his corpse remain in there for some 49 years when he was still-born? And besides this, how did he develop bodily and mentally in utero such that he was able to lead a life as he did? How did he compose and direct and act? And then how did the artist figure what Shakespeare looked like? Is that the news I'm missing here? Did they have some sort of ultra-sound technology in 1509 and we've just re-discovered this now?

    • According to your calculations the Earth is 6000 years old...
    • by colinrichardday (768814) <colin.day.6@hotmail.com> on Sunday March 15, 2009 @02:49AM (#27198221)

      The article uses 400, rather than 500, years, so the summary is wrong. And why is your post modded funny instead of informative?

      • The funny part is the math! I believe that when a number is in a bracket, you need to treat it differently ;-)

        2009 - (500 + 6) = 2009 - 500 *-* 6 = 1503

        But given that the original article say 400 years, that brings it to 1603, when he was actually alive.

        • by a whoabot (706122)

          Good thing I didn't put them in brackets then, because then I would have calculated the year which is six years before the painting was made, and not the year of his death, which is what I was so facetiously looking for. ;-)

    • Oh my god! So Shakespeare is really a wookie from the planet Endor? Acquit! Acquit!
    • If the portrait is 500 years old, and it was painted 6 years before his death, I believe I'm being told that Shakespeare died in AD 2009 - 500 + 6 = 1515. This page [shakespeare-online.com] says that Shakespeare was born 1564. How could Shakespeare have died before he was born?

      You believe it's the year 2009, when in fact it's closer to 2109. I can't tell you exactly what year it is because we honestly don't know ...

      (You think that's air you're breathing now?)

  • by poity (465672) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @01:52AM (#27198049)

    I can tell from the brushstrokes and having seen a few 'shops in my time.

  • it turned out to actually be a portrait of Sir Francis Bacon...

  • Fake! (Score:3, Funny)

    by kramulous (977841) * on Sunday March 15, 2009 @02:30AM (#27198173)

    An elaborate fake perhaps, but still a fake. Yes, the frame is made from trees from the period but the only difference between the canvas and existing paintings is that this time the man has a beard and features painted in a different light.

    Even a moderate understudy of art could have produced this.

    Or, doth mine eyes deceive me?

    • Or, doth mine eyes deceive me?

      Horatio:
      O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!

      Hamlet:
      And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
      There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
      Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

      -- Hamlet, Act I, Scene V

    • the frame is made from trees from the period but the only difference between the canvas and existing paintings

      Actually, paintings from that era were often done on wooden panels [wikipedia.org]. Canvas didn't take over as the most common surface for paintings until "the 16th century in Italy and the 17th century in Northern Europe. [wikipedia.org]"

    • Allow me to share a well-worn anecdote.

      There once was an art dealer who occasionally received pieces from the great master, Picasso. Of course, even in that day there was a great market for fake art, and Picasso had a relatively easy style to duplicate. So the dealer would take some of the paintings he was not sure about to the master and say, "Master, did you paint this?" and Picasso would say one way or another, most often that the painting was fake.

      The dealer grew suspicious however, and one day he goes

  • > Scientific studies at Cambridge showed that the oak panel on which the Cobbe portrait was mounted came from trees felled in the last 20 years of the 16th century, pointing to a date for the painting in the early 1600s."

    Big deal. Go find any church being torn down and you can find really old timbers, pews, rafters, tables, etc.

    Its not hard to get old wood, especially since the advent of Viagra.

  • by danboid (300692)

    "His face is open and alive, with a rosy..."

    Rosy eh?

    However, Eric Phelps, author of Vatican Assassins, would insist that this is not the 'Rosicrucian mask' of the Baconian's but that the Spear shaker's true identity was that of Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford.

    Whatever the real identity of these folks I'll bet my ballsack they're all Widows sons.

  • Quick, burn all his damn books!

    • by bcrowell (177657)
      It is kind of funny when people play the game of trying to figure out whether famous people from hundreds of years ago were gay. Isaac Newton is another good example. In that era, they would put a man to death if he was caught having sex with another man, so there was a heck of a strong incentive to hide it, and that's why we're unlikely to ever know for sure. There's also the whole issue of whether it makes sense to apply a modern term like "gay." Some men today who consider themselves gay believe that it'
    • Well, he did spend a lot of his time around pretty young boys in frilly dresses...
  • and those with a vested interested (the proclaimer of this discovery is the "Chairman of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust"), Shakespeare's identity itself continues to be hotly debated because there is precious little _real_ evidence for the traditional candidate. (Harpers Magazine had a good full-length feature interviewing proponents of different theories ten years ago, and AFAIK none of them have changed their minds since then.) If, like me, you are one of those poor individuals believing the evidence of

  • by PPH (736903) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @02:14PM (#27201329)
    .... this is the earliest recorded instance of "Pics or it didn't happen".
  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @05:51PM (#27203173)

    Scientific studies at Cambridge showed that the oak panel on which the Cobbe portrait was mounted came from trees felled in the last 20 years of the 16th century, pointing to a date for the painting in the early 1600s.

    Why do you have to mix two different measurement systems to the confusion of the readers? Why give dates as both 16th century (meaning the 1500s) and 1600s (meaning the 17th century) in the same d@mn sentence? Pick one method and stick with it!

    • He's writing a /. post, not a technical spec. If you read history books for long enough you'll soon get bored reading the same thing over and over again. Sounds like you need to hang with Mr Cowper: "variety is the spice of life", after all. ;-)

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