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The Droeshout  

The most famous images of Shakespeare

Which is the true portrait of Shakespeare? Have a guess and then move your mouse over the paintings to find out if you are right.

Robert J Williamson investigates the true face of the Bard.

The Droeshout Engraving
This is the image in the First Folio of Shakespeare's Plays published in 1623, seven years after his death. When Shakespeare died Droeshout was only 15 and probably never met the playwright. It is certain however that it was used with the consent of friends and family and therefore must be a reasonable true life image. It is not meant to be a true life portrait but was done to the idiosyncratic style of the day which left many portraits looking the same. Ben Johnson's advice in the verse opposite the engraving "since the graver had a strife with nature" one should "look not on his picture, but his book".

The Monument
Erected in the Chancel of the Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-Upon-Avon, shortly after his death. Some think it was taken from his death mask which may explain it's puffy dead appearance. But it's resemblance to the inaccurate Droeshout image indicates one must have been taken from the other.

The Soest
Not Shakespeare but based on an actor of the same time that was said to resemble Shakespeare who was still in living memory. Produced to capitalise on the restoration and the reopening of the playhouses after the Puritan crackdown.

The Grafton Portrait
Although this image appears on several book covers there is no evidence to connect it to Shakespeare. The unknown sitter was 24 when Shakespeare was 24 but laws of the time specifically prohibited the wearing of scarlet except by nobility. Put forward by those who want to claim Shakespeare for the elite.

The Flower
The most famous of all images of Shakespeare. It is 100% fake and owned by the RSC. It is a 19th Century colour copy of the Droeshout Engraving using pigments not available until 1828. X-rays show it is painted over a mid-16th Century portrait of the Madonna and Child with John the Baptist.

The Chandos
Passing all scientific analysis and regarded as authentic within living memory of the great playwright William Shakespeare. This is the true likeness of William Shakespeare and has a detailed provence. In the late 17th Century it was owned by the actor Thomas Betterton, the leading Shakespearean actor of his day. He acted in one of Sir William Devenant's theatres. Devenant was appointed "governor" of the King and Queen's Company of Players, a successor of Shakespeare's Company in 1639 only 23 years after Shakespeare's death. It is disliked by some elitist critics for its working class appearance and the same reason they like the Grafton Portrait.

   
    The Monument  

Droeshout Engraving

The Monument

The Soest
The Grafton Portrait

The Soest

The Grafton Portrait

The Flower The Chandos

The Flower

 

The Chandos

   
     

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