Thursday, December 20, 2012

3D Shakespeare, Death Masks, Mark Twain, & the Great Unknown

Above: 3D Shakespeare (History Channel photo) & Unknown Man from Royal Collection

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 etc to explore the anomalies shared by the authentic portraits of Shakespeare. HH eventually used all the data they collected to create a 3D Shakespeare. 

It's odd that the 3D mask doesn't really resemble, overtly at least, the usual suspects (the sitters of the Droeshout, Chandos, Flower portraits) from which it was compiled. I at least wouldn't recognize the man from the 3D mask as Shakespeare. For one thing, the bridge of the nose seems too broad. The ears are missing (and Shakespeare's ears are distinctive). There's no protruding septum at the bottom of the nose. And why cover up the top lip with a moustache? Oh well.  Some people are never satisfied. 

The 3D mask did, however, remind me of another portrait I'd once bookmarked inside the Royal Collection.  Here I have to confess that I collect Unknown Men late at night on the Internet. Let me explain. Indications are that Shakespeare's portraits were being mass produced even while he was still alive (the play "Return to Parnassus," written during Shakespeare's lifetime, references such a portrait). With this in mind, I started searching for lost Shakespeare portraits, sitters that had been misidentified or listed as Unknown Man, etc. The world of virtual galleries had just opened, and these online museums offered up not only the portraits currently on display but also those that had been kept locked in storehouses for centuries. Could one of them turn out to be a lost Shakespeare, I wondered. 

The Royal Collection dates their unknown-man portrait between 1600-1650. I think the collar is too fluted and large to be Jacobean and is likely Elizabethan. More like c.1600 would be my guess. The unknown sitter is posing in front of a red curtain. And I'd bet the portrait's been cropped at the bottom, since we can't see his bling. Bling was very important to Elizabethans. 

The next comparison (below) is between the same Unknown Man and Shakespeare's supposed death mask. Hammerschmidt-Hummel believes the death mask legitimate, but her argument is too detailed to repeat here. If you're curious, you can read about the mask in her book The True Face of William Shakespeare. I still have my doubts about the death mask, even though HH makes a fair argument in its defense.

If you follow to the RC link you can zoom in on the the portrait. Notice the extreme shading on the cheek and jaw. This is another anomaly that keeps turning up in Shakespeare's portraits. (HH concluded Shakespeare had a skin disease.)  Still, I doubt this is Shakespeare. It just doesn't look like his other known portraits. I suspect the inclusion of the death mask tainted the 3D Shakespeare experiment. Still, it would be great if the Royal Collection tested the portrait. 

My apologies that the photographs at the top of the post are not sized up properly for comparison. Tragically, my new laptop's has no Photoshop. How I miss Photoshop! As always, click on images for better viewing.

Mark Twain used to refer to the historical William Shakespeare as "The Great Unknown." Sometimes I think Mark Twain had a point. 
Shakespeare Death Mask (left) & Unknown Man RC 406388 (right) 
Click for larger image 


  1. I think the plaster mask shows us the face of Roger Manners, the 5th Earl of Rutland. He is one of main candidates for the title "true Shakespeare".

  2. I've read a little about Manners but haven't been able to see his portraits in any detail. I actually arrived at the Manners family castle the day after it had closed for the season. I was curious.

  3. Do you know a picture "Chess players, Shakespeare and Ben Jonson"? A man who plays black figures - Johnson's rival - is the person from whom was removed the plaster mask in question (Shakespeare Death Mask). This is 5th Earl Rutland.