Saturday, March 16, 2013

Newly Discovered Portrait: Is This Shakespeare's Patron, the Third Earl of Southampton?

Above: Uknown courtier (left) and the Earl of Southampton (Folger Shakespeare Library)

Update: the new portrait is now scheduled for spectral testing, starting with infrared reflectograms, in early May.  Very exciting.  We will keep you posted on the results.
An owner of this painting recently wrote wondering if the family portrait, an unidentified male wearing a Jacobean thistle-pattern collar, might depict William Shakespeare.  The sitter does resemble the playwright and is wearing the same style collar as the sitter in the s-called Cobbe portrait of Shakespeare.  The collar was fashionable between around 1598-1610.  The thistle pattern was associated with James I, not Elizabeth I.  Earlier examples had Tudor rose patterns. 

As the collar dates the portrait to c. 1600 at about the earliest, I think the sitter's too young for Shakespeare but a dead ringer for Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton, who was Shakespeare's patron and probably the Fair Youth of the sonnets.  
Click on image 
The inscription, which appears partially overpainted, indicates the sitter to be 31.  The word "Anno" is also visible, but not the year the portrait was painted.  Southampton at 31 would date the portrait c. 1604, which fits nicely with the Jacobean collar, and even with Southampton's release from the Tower of London in 1603 when James came to power and Southampton became a court favorite.

 Above: Unknown Courtier (left) and the NPG portrait of Southampton

As to the crest, it appears to have added later by a lesser hand.  The heraldic beast resembles a dismembered griffin painted onto a shield bend-sinister, but the badge appears to have been added later.  And the shape of the shield, specifically its curved base, eludes experts. 

Below: Hilliard's Southampton miniature (Fitzwilliam Museum) & Courtier. Did Hilliard's apprentice Oliver paint this portrait?

Below: the Young Southampton (Cobbe Collection) and the Unknown Courtier
Below: comparison of ears between the Cobbe Southampton (left) and the Unknown Courtier (right).  Note they are identical.

Above: Unknown Courtier & the Tower Portrait of Southampton by de Critz (privately owned)
Below: close-up eyes Unknown Courtier and the Tower Southampton
Above, from left: the NPG portrait of Southampton, Uknown Courtier, Hilliard miniature of Southampton (Fitzwilliam Museum), and privately owned Southampton miniature.  CLICK ON IMAGE.
Above: Unknown Courtier (left) and The 3rd Earl of Southampton (British Museum). Note how artist shaded the face in order to capture the identical complexion visible in portrait.
 Above: 3rd Earl of Southampton (left, Folger Library) and Unknown Courtier (right). Note: engravings are often reversedTypically Southampton wore an earring in his left ear.
It's possible we have a new, beautifully rendered portrait of Henry Wriothesley, the Third Earl of Southampton.  The owner is eager to get it x-rayed if possible.

Click here to see our post on a previous identification of a 1602 dual portrait as Shakespeare and Southampton posing together. 

Here is a link to some fine images of Southampton at the Folger Shakespeare Library's Digital Collection.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Is This Portrait of England's King John Actually William Shakespeare?

Above: NPG King John (left, c.1620) and the Davenant bust (right). 
Kept at London's Garrick Club, the Davenant bust is considered to be one of the most authentic likenesses of William Shakespeare.

Compare our faces and be judge yourself.--Shakespeare's King John, I.I 
It was suggested that the [Hunt] painting had been obscured in Puritanical times, as many portraits had been, to conceal it, as players then were in ill odour.-- John Rabone, an early Shakespeare collector, in 1883 lecture

Were Shakespeare's portraits disguised as his characters hundreds of years ago in order to protect them from fire-happy iconoclasts?  It's a fact that all the historical portraits of William Shakespeare have been grossly overpainted, attacked, and otherwise manipulated.  Most of this chicanery took place during the Jacobean era when such portraits as the Cobbe, Janssen, and Hunt (etc) were purposely disguised.  The blog does not concern itself with why these portraits were disguised (political reasons, protection from iconoclasts, the authorship mystery, etc), but instead attempts to discover lost portraits of William Shakespeare.

Note: the 1623 Droeshout engraving from the First Folio is considered our most authentic image of Shakespeare.  His contemporary friend/rival Ben Jonson vouched for the engraving.  The NPG King John dates to the same time as the Droeshout.

This particular post will be another essay in captions. 

Above: NPG King John (left) and the 1750 Pervis copy of the NPG Chandos portrait (right, Folger Library).  Due to centuries of heavily manipulation marring the original portrait, the early copies of the Chandos, such as the above Pervis copy, are considered by experts to be more accurate likenesses of Shakespeare.

Above detail: note the disparity between the shape of the two eyes.  King John was not blind nor marred in this fashion.  Why would the unknown artist have chosen to make King John appear blind in his left eye?  Also note that scholars have been pointing out the oddness of the eyes in the Droeshout engraving for centuries. 

Note: eye color is misleading.  Bitumen turns pigment brown.  Aging varnish also turns pigment brown.  Eye color migrates toward brown. Pay attention to eye shape, not color.

Above: portrait NPG's King John NPG 4805(5).  
Note exquisite details of facial features contrasted with cartoon-like clothing.  Was the portrait overpainted so that only the original face remained intact?  Note the contrast between crown and face, too.  Same painter?

Above comparison: NPG King John (left) and the NPG Chandos Shakespeare (right).  The shapes of both eyes are identical.  See above note on why eye color doesn't matter.

Above detail: the remnants of a peaked beard, mirroring that of the Chandos portraits, that has been rubbed out (and side peaks added).  Is it possible Shakespeare's portraits were disguised to resembled his characters to save them from Cromwellian iconoclasts?

Above: the 1623 Droeshout engraving (left) and the NPG King John (right).  What's with the eyes?

This post was inspired by Hank Whittemore's excellent blog post on the source play for King John.  Whittemore, an Oxfordian, argues that the play King John provides strong evidence that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote Shakespeare. 

Above: NPG King John (left) and c. 1734 drawing by antiquarian George Vertue of the Trinity bust at Stratford (right, Folger Library).  Vertue twice drew the Stratford bust as resembling not its present incarnation but as the twin for the Chandos portrait.  Since Spielmann defended Vertue's work as impeccable, this gives rise to suspicions of bust swapping in Stratford.  Note the similarities in features: eye, nose, forehead, brow, ear, etc.  Also note the under-hanging septum of nose in both portraits.

Additional comparison of interest:

Above: early copies of the Chandos portrait (Folger Library). Because the NPG Chandos portrait has been so heavily manipulated, its early copies--especially the drawings and engravings--are considered more authentic likenesses of Shakespeare than the original portrait.

Read earlier post on the Davenant bust and the new 3D Shakespeare. 

Related Post: Does This Mysterious 1601 Portrait Depict Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton?

Click here to go to the NPG webpage for this portrait.
Click here to visit Folger Shakespeare Library's Drawing of the Stratford Bust by George Vertue. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Choice of Valentines: Tom Nashe's Pornographic Shakespeare Parody on Valentines Day

  above: Unknown Man Before Backdrop of Fire by Nicholas Hilliard (Victoria & Albert Museum)

Happy Valentines Day.

One of my favorite Elizabethans has always been Tom Nashe, the wittiest of London's university wits and an altogether memorable character and writer who unfortunately died in disgrace after Elizabeth I burned all of his book and forbade his pen to continue.  Nashe and Ben Jonson collaborated on the scandalous "Isle of Dogs" play that inspired so many bonfires the play itself did not survive, and now we don't know what all the hoopla was about.  Nashe fled the city.  Jonson was jailed and ear-striped.

One of Nashe's most popular works was the poem, “The Choice of Valentines,” a 1593 parody of Shakespeare’s "Venus and Adonis" that chronicled one man’s odyssey in attempting to bring a prostitute to orgasm.  The poem was known throughout London as “Nashe’s Dildo.”  

Painted on the back of an ace of hearts, and long considered one of Hilliard's masterpieces, Unknown Man Against Background of Fire is described by scholar Erna Auerbach as “a striking picture of human tragedy.”
Here, the sitter, whoever he was, does not matter, but the intense feeling which his image expressed, moves and touches us profoundly.  As if it were a symbol of burning love, the card on which the parchment is pasted is the ace of hearts.  The “burning” lover wears a fine linen shirt, wide open in front, a locket hangs on a long chain and he presses it with his left hand against his heart, as if it contained the picture of his beloved mistress, and, in strong contrast to the white of the garment, the noble and ecstatic face with dark hair and beard, turn to the right, looks at us with fanatical eyes.
Link to Nashe's The Choice of Valentines.

Link to our follow-up post attempting to identify the sitter in Hilliard fiery miniature as the Shakespearian actor Nathan Field.

Link to the Victoria & Albert Museum and their amazing collection of Elizabethan portrait miniatures.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Courtier in White Spurned By Queen Elizabeth I: does this portrait depict Edward de Vere or Sir Walter Raleigh?

 Detail from A Courtier and His Lady by Marcus Gheeraerts (private collection)

My earlier post on this curious portrait stated that this courtier fallen from grace with his queen had been painted by Robert Peake; however the Weiss Gallery attributes the portrait to Gheeeraerts the Younger and dates it c. 1592.  (I'm surprised that the ruffled sleeves didn't cause the Weiss to date the picture to c. 1585).  Anyway here's what's really fascinating about the Weiss examination.

Overpaint and censorship.  The Weiss file states the portrait was at some vague point in history "dramatically overpainted".  The courtier in white was manipulated with added dark hair, beard, and hat to make him resemble Sir Walter Raleigh.  Stranger yet, the woman resembling Queen Elizabeth I was overpainted out of the portrait entirely.  And the inscription "Sir. Walt. Rawleigh" was added to the upper right corner.   

Why overpaint the Queen from the portrait and thereby devalue it greatly?  It seems likely this portrait was censored for political reasons.  If so, when was this done and why?  The Weiss Gallery states rather vaguely that the portrait was overpainted "probably in the 19th century."   

The curators at the Weiss Gallery agree that the lady depicted in the background (later censored) was likely Queen Elizabeth I.  "Closer examination of this figure in black," they write, "reveals she has reddish hair, wears a coronet and carries a feather fan . . . Around her neck she wears what is perhaps not just a necklace, but possibly a larger chain denoting an office or order.  I so, could this image be of anyone else other than the Queen herself?"

The identification of the painter as Gheeraerts hints that the portrait might have been a ploy to regain favor with the Queen.  Sir Henry Lee employed Gheeraerts to this purpose with the impressive Ditchley portrait of Elizabeth I.  

So does the portrait depict the chastened Sir Walter Raleigh or the Midnight Earl Edward de VereHere is a link to original post with all the side-by-side comparisons you need to decide for yourself.

Related links:
Link to the wonderful Weiss Virtual Gallery in London. 
Link to the Folger Shakespeare Library's Virtual Gallery.
Special thanks to Stella Samaras for setting me straight. 

below: the controversial Ashbourne Portrait of Shakespeare mid-cleaning 1988 (Folger Shakespeare Library, left) & Gheeraerts' Courtier in White (private collection, right)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Designer Monsters: How Shakespeare Deformed Richard III

Shakespeare cut his teeth on Richard III.  This tragedy, as it was labeled, was to remain throughout Shakespeare’s life one of his most popular plays.  In designing this monster Richard III, Shakespeare took the Machiavellian archetype made famous by Kit Marlowe then tricked out his villain so as to make Richard actually charm and seduce the crowd.  It was quite a revolutionary moment in theater history: the first time an audience was asked to cheer on evil incarnate.

Shakespeare’s Richard emerged shrieking from the womb with a shriveled arm, a humpback, a mane of black hair, and a mouthful of lamprey teeth.  And from this point forward, villains would have to be charming bastards.  Their job--all flaying, decapitating, cannibalizing aside--was to seduce the audience.  And, in that sense, Richard III became the father of our modern day cult of cut-and-slash.  Like Freddy Krueger, Richard not only joyfully slaughters children but he can get you in your dreams.  (Just ask his brother Clarence).  Toward the end of the play, we see a ghosted Richard conversing with himself via his own split personality.  

I am a villain.  Yet I lie, I am not.
Fool, of thyself speak well.  Fool, do not flatter.
My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain.
Perjury, perjury, in the highest degree.
Murder, stern murder, in the direst degree,
All several sins, all used in each degree,
Throng to the bar, crying all, ‘Guilty!  Guilty!’
I shall despair.  There is no creature loves me;”
                                      V, iii

The historical monster Shakespeare crafted was, centuries later, absolved of all its atrocities not by any historian (at least not initially) but by the British detective writer pen named Josephine Tey ( a pseudonym for the Scottish writer Elizabeth Mackintosh).  In her novel The Daughter of Time, Tey attempted to prove that Richard could not have killed the little lamb princes nestled in the tower.  Following Tey, historians have risen to Richard’s defense, the current consensus being that Richard III had no motive to murder the young princes.  The real Richard III, it turns out, was brave, capable, and one of the few English kings to die, however unhorsed, in battle.  The monster wasn’t a monster.  It was all made up by a string of biased historians then cemented in history by a genius playwright.  

Tey further argued that, since Richard was innocent, it becomes obvious he was framed, following his death, by the people who benefited the most from the murders of the two young princes, a.k.a. the Tudor clan; however, since these atrocities were performed by Queen Elizabeth’s forbears, therefore a suitable villain had to be cobbled together in order to take the historical fall.  In other words, the Tudors, in order to stay the throne, needed a designer monster.  

Elizabeth I, who controlled no standing army, ruled England by inducing both playwrights and preachers to champion her versions of history.  England and its theaters thrived under these tactics, and the rest is, well, a sort of anti-history: history deformed, shriveled, humped, maned, and insisored.
Late in her book Tey wrestles with another strange cultural phenomenon, the reaction of many of us when faced with evidence that our views have been perverted by propaganda.  Tey expresses it with her typical grace:

It’s an odd thing but when you tell someone the true facts of a mythical tale they are indignant not with the teller but with you.  They don’t want to have their ideas upset.  It rouses some vague uneasiness in them, I think, and they resent it.  So they reject it and refuse to think about it.  If they were merely indifferent it would be natural and understandable.  But it is much stronger than that, much more positive.  They are annoyed. (DOT p. 131-132)
Update: now there's a 3D Richard III (above image from Daily Mail) to go along with the 3D Shakespeare.

Update II: Now the Daily Beast has an article up defending Richard as well.

Bonus link: a nice write up on Richard's exhumation in NMissCommentor.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Shakespeare and Southampton: Two Portraits That Would Suggest These Two Men Were Related

The 1623 First Folio Droeshout Engraving (left, Folger Library) and Myten's 3rd Earl of Southampton (right, Folger Library)

It's curious, I've always thought, that the one historical figure tied most directly to William Shakespeare, the 3rd Earl of Southampton, to whom Shakespeare dedicated two poems, bears such an amazing resemblance to the 1623 Droeshout engraving of Shakespeare, the one likeness vouched for as authentic by a friend of the great playwright's.  It is possible the resemblance between the two men is coincidental.  But, considering the many anomalies famously marring the Droeshout face, it's one hellava coincidence, too, especially since Shakespeare's Sonnets can easily be read as poems written by a father to a young, effeminate son begging him to get married, oy vey, and give me grandchildren.  Anyway, make of it what you will.  

Related post: Does This Mysterious 1602 Portrait Depict Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton?
Link to Folger Shakespeare Library's Virtual Gallery 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Beautiful Villains: Amy Robsart RIP

 Possible Amy Robsart Private Collection English School
Letter written from London by the Spanish Ambassador Alvaro De Quandra, Bishop of Aquila, on Sept. 6th, 1560 
After my conversation with the Queen, I met the Secretary Cecil, whom I knew to be in disgrace . . . Last of all he [Cecil] said that they [Elizabeth and Dudley] were thinking of destroying Lord Robert’s wife.  They had given out that she was ill, but she was not ill at all; she was very well and taking care not to be poisoned.
On Sept. 8, two days after the letter was penned, Amy Robsart was found dead at the foot of the stairs of Cumnor Hall.

As to the above portrait, it's called Amy Robsart, but there's a lot of skepticism about the identification.  

Regarding the below portrait miniatures, well, those would be our Macbeth-like villains (Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley).  At least the public outrage over Robsart's murder prevented the below pair from being able to marry and live happily ever after. 

It's quite a beautiful portrait, whoever the above woman is.  As are the miniatures below.  Like Shakespeare, Nicholas Hilliard could paint beautiful villains
Nicholas Hillard's His & Her Portrait Miniatures of Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley.  To read more about these two miniatures follow this link.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Update: 3D Shakespeare & the Royal Collection's Unknown Man

The Davenant Bust (Garrick Club, London) and Unknown Man (Royal Collection)
Here's an update to a previous post on a recent 3D rendering of Shakespeare's face and its resemblance to a portrait of an Unknown Man kept in the Royal Collection. The Davenant bust is considered by many experts to be one of the more authentic likenesses of William Shakespeare (I've always thought it a bit too handsome to be accurate).  Since the bust also resembles the Unknown Man in the Royal Collection, I should have included the above comparison in the original post, which begins:
Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel is a fabulously named German professor, a traditional Stratfordian scholar, who has devoted extensive work to Shakespeare's portraits, including a seven-year study with a team of scientists using facial-recognition technology to explore the anomalies shared by the authentic portraits of Shakespeare. HHH eventually used all the data they collected to create a 3D Shakespeare . . . 
To read the original post follow this link. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Happy New Year!

The Somerset Portrait featuring Mos Def, Method Man, Nas, Snoop, Unknown Courtier, and David Banner 
We are moving the vast corporate enterprise that is Curious Portraits About Dead Elizabethans.  This will take about two weeks in which we will have to reshuffle our international and domestic offices and perhaps downsize and let a few hundred people go.  Meaning I'll start posting again in two weeks after I've thrown all my stuff in boxes and moved across town. 

Oh how I miss Photoshop.
evolution of the Somerset Portrait Mash-up

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Flattery and Fear Create a Stunning Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I c.1575

This is my new third-favorite portrait of Elizabeth I.  It's by Nicholas Hilliard and a good example of his skills, including flattery.  The miniature depicts Elizabeth with spiderweb veil at age 42 and lookin' damn good.  Much better, for instance, than in this rather manly portrait of her holding a coiled serpent to her breast and needing a shave.  Elizabeth famously instructed Hilliard, her court painter, to leave out the shadows, by which she meant paint me pretty or I will behead you.  And Hilliard did.  Not just with Elizabeth but with other nobles.  Hilliard was so afraid of being beheaded he painted everybody beautiful, except of course the poor and powerless.

The above miniature of Elizabeth recently sold alongside a matching portrait of her dank lover Robert Dudley, the man with whom she shared adjoining quarters.  Now don't get any ideas about them having had sex because we know for a fact Elizabeth died a virgin, and it is treasonous for somebody like Camilla Lombardi, Head of the Portrait Miniature Department at Bonham's, to insinuate otherwise by sayings things like: "The intense personal nature of these miniatures, gives you a clear sense of the passionate woman behind the carefully cultivated public image."

That is absurd.  Elizabeth's only passion was ruling England, her true husband.

During Hilliard's day the portrait miniature was considered one of the most exalted of art forms.  Sometimes Hilliard even dabbed his stoat-toothed tools in liquified silver, which, as you can see, blackens over time.  Note the black jewels evident in Elizabeth's hair and necklace.  Also note the beautiful spiderweb veil, very bride-like, and virginal.

Related links. Here's a link to a well written article about the above miniature and its recent sale.  And a link to my favorite portrait of Queen Elizabeth I.  And finally a link to a brilliantly written post entitled Nicholas Hilliard and the Armada Perm.

Bonus link: Is This Portrait of England's King John Actually William Shakespeare?