Not A Genuine Likeness Of Shakespeare After All…

Awhile back I wrote a post about a picture that was claimed to be one of the few paintings of Shakespeare painted while he was still alive.


This claim has been called into question:

On comparing the Cobbe and Janssen portraits, and referring also to the Droeshout engraving and the four previously authenticated true-to-life images (the Chandos and Flower portraits, the Davenant bust and the death mask), the Shakespeare specialist Hammerschmidt-Hummel found discrepancies between the Cobbe and Janssen portraits. Her investigations showed that the painter of the Janssen portrait was quite familiar with Shakespeare’s characteristic features and with the symptoms of his early-stage illnesses. The artist who painted the Cobbe picture, however, was not acquainted with all the morphological characteristics of Shakespeare’s face, and in particular was unaware of pathological details, apart from a slight swelling of the left upper eyelid, of which there is only a “suggestion” in his portrait. These differences were confirmed by an authority in the diagnosis of pathological signs in Renaissance portraiture, the dermatologist Professor Jost Metz, in his professional opinion of 12 March 2009.

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5 Responses

  1. Bacon?

  2. @lassi Bacon?
    Yes please, how about sausage and eggs too. A couple of slices and obviously a cuppa to wash it down.
    Also happy birthday to Mr Shakespeare.

  3. That’s assuming a lot of accuracy on the part of the portrait painter, especially if they’re looking for the swelling of an eyelid, which might be a matter of a millimetre. It could also be that the artist had a certain way of doing eyes.
    I like that the painting can be traced back to the great granddaughter of one of Shakespeare’s patrons and that it seems to be the right age.
    If you look at portraits from that time you can see that they used a fair number of conventions and that they aren’t always photorealistic enough for diagnoses.
    And happy birthday, dear William, from me too!

  4. Okay. The portrait may or may not be Shakespeare. It’s hard to say. As someone else pointed out,the conventions of the time may have induced the portraitist to “pretty him up”, for all we know. Also, the “juxtaposed” portrait — the one “everybody” is familiar with, is of a decidedly older man(note the receding hairline, for example). As for the nose, well,wasn’t that “older” portrait really like a woodcut or something? That in itself might have “skewed” the accuracy of the portrait.
    Anne G

  5. To play Devil’s Advocate:

    These differences were confirmed by an authority in the diagnosis of pathological signs in Renaissance portraiture, [emphasis mine - afarensis] the dermatologist Professor Jost Metz, in his professional opinion of 12 March 2009.

    Which sounds like they did take the artistic conventions of the Renaissance into consideration.

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