Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Does This Mysterious 1602 Dual Portrait Depict William Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton?

One last post before a two-week hiatus.
I found this portrait, a rare dual portrait, in an old sales catalog from Philip Morris. The background appeared to be overpainted, and the background is where you'd expect to find family heraldry in a father-and-son portrait.  The matching armor was rare. But what really struck me was the young sitter's resemblance to Henry Wriothesley, the physically distinctive 3rd Earl of Southampton, who was Shakespeare patron/lover/illegitimate son/Fair Youth (pick your theory).  

Below: Southampton engraving (Folger Library) and Monson Unknown Youth
And since the older figure on the left (the socially dominant position in a dual portrait) resembled William Shakespeare, I got out my magnifying glass and went to work putting the portrait's jpeg under some filters.
Click on photo for larger image
Above: Unknown Sitter surrounded by early copies of the NPG's Chandos portrait of Shakespeare. Because the original Chandos Portrait has been so heavily overpainted, experts consider the early Chandos copies (Folger Library) to be more reliable likenesses of Shakespeare. Click on photo for larger image.

The portrait, called Possible Sir Thomas Monson and Son, is dated 1620 in its catalog entry. The 1620 date makes it correspond nicely to a portrait of the king's falconer Tom Monson and his oldest son John.  So far so good, except that when I adjusted the contrast on the jpeg, I saw the date 1602 emerge from beneath the overpaint. Monson's oldest son John was born in 1600, meaning he would have been two years old in 1602.
 Above: the Latin inscription AN DNI indicates the year the portrait was painted:1602
1602 inscription under filters (click on photo for larger image)
In 1602 Southampton was serving time inside the Tower for his involvement in the Essex Rebellion (which had been gun-started with the production of Shakespeare's "Richard II" at the Globe). Many scholar argue it was Southampton's imprisonment that inspired Shakespeare's sonnet cycle.   

Southampton, as it turned out, also owned a similar set of French armor that now resides in London's National Armory along with a curatorial note stating it is part of a matching set. The matching suit of French armor is kept at The Met, so it's possible, I suppose, that Shakespeare's armor now resides in NYC.   

If it is the "fair youth" Earl of Southampton portrayed in the portrait than the most likely candidate for the dominant, older sitter would be his father, the Second Earl of Southampton. Unfortunately there are no surviving portraits of Southampton's father to use in a comparison. 

The Oxfordian Perspective  
Oxfordians, specifically those who hold to the Prince Tudor theory, might be interested to note the resemblance between the elder sitter and the Ashbourne Portrait.  Due to the scholarship of Barbara Burris, most Oxfordians now believe the Ashbourne portrays Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. One little known fact about the Ashbourne is that it has a full head of hair, almost identical to the so-called Monson sitter's, beneath its overpaint. Two different sets of x-rays performed on the Ashbourne have confirmed this head of hair to exist.

It might also be worthwhile to mention here Charles Wisner Barrell's longstanding theory that many portraits called Shakespeare are overpainted pictures of Edward de Vere.  It was Barrell who first x-rayed the Ashbourne, Janssen, and Hampton Court portraits and declared the all to be de Vere.  If the Janssen is de Vere (see below comparison) then so is the Cobbe, etc, etc . . .  

The baton held by each sitter is a commander's baton and indicates he has led troops.   

The questions about this dual portrait's history will remain unanswered until its owners have been located. Auction houses guard such information, and so far I've had no luck tracking the portrait down. If anybody knows the owner of this fascinating portrait please contact this blog via comments.  Thanks.

Note: eye color in old portraits is meaningless.  Varnish yellows as it ages and changed pigment color.  Also this portrait has been heavily overpainted.

 Above: the Folger's Ashbourne and Unknown called Monson.  Note: the Ashbourne (left) was overpainted bald, but x-rays have revealed the original Ashbourne sitter had full head of hair identical to the unknown sitter on right.  Below: Ashbourne (Folger Library) with hair style evident in both sets of x-rays.
Click on any image for larger photo.
Above: Unknown Older Man (left) and the Janssen portrait of Shakespeare (right, Folger Library) that CW Barrell identified as Edward de Vere

Above: the Older Sitter (left) and the Archer Shakespeare (right, Folger Library)

CW Barrell argued in Scientific American that many of the Shakespeare portraits believed to be authentic were actually overpainted portraits of Edward de Vere.  In the late 30's Barrell x-rayed and infrared a number of candidate portraits (the Janssen, the Ashbourne, and the Hampton Court).  They were all de Vere, he concluded.  Scientific American magazine vociferously backed up Barrell's test results. 
UPDATE: Looks like we've found a new Southampton portrait--and quite beautifully executed, too.  Click here to read about the new discovery.

Related Post: Does These Two Portrait Prove Shakespeare and Southampton Were Related?
Related Link: The Folger Shakespeare Library's Digital Collection



  1. Nice discovery! Am I correct in presuming that the armour should be an exact match to this portrait? That is:
    The two extant pieces should match each other and the two pieces should be replicated in this portrait?

    My reasoning is that it would be difficult to alter armour. If a piece were damaged or corroded, the design would only allow an exact replacement part and would not allow a change to match the current fashion at the time of the repair.

    As to the portrait, I would expect that the armour would have been present at the time of the portrait. They may not have been wearing it, but the painter would have had the original article at arms' length and thus been able to capture exact detail.


  2. Armor is not an exact match, especially colorwise. Regardless of armor, my hunch is that this whole portrait--not just the background--has been heavily doused with a brown brush. I doubt the original version featured brown armor with brown background, etc, but, again, everything is speculation until portrait is x-rayd. BTW the painter is listed as Follow of (Robert) Peake.

  3. Interesting

    You might find this as well

  4. I have made a comparison of the Devere L111 at the NPG and the Ashbourne which is here: http://www.google.co.uk/imgres?imgurl=https://sites.google.com/site/imageofwilliamshakespeare/home/Shakespeare%2520de%2520Vere%2520(2).png%3Fattredirects%3D0&imgrefurl=http://sites.google.com/site/imageofwilliamshakespeare/&h=1024&w=768&sz=1241&tbnid=p_UPTU0aaPaMVM:&tbnh=89&tbnw=67&zoom=1&usg=__gw-VKXpSBkDceLyqyRZzYJX9kS0=&docid=N6ndDmk4xJJGDM&sa=X&ei=riKyUaL9IOKU0AWP_YHIAg&ved=0CFcQ9QEwCw&dur=221

    It is a superimposition of the L111 over the Ashbourne so that as you tilt the screen of a laptop and view it from different angles the Ashbourne emerges and the sitter appears to age. The two portraits show the same facial features and are likely to have been painted using a template of Edward de Vere.

  5. The Ashbourne is a deep can of worms. Best of luck. I think the problem with the study of that portrait is the level of sophistication necessary to understand its history of manipulation etc makes the portrait a lost cause. Yes, it's very likely de Vere, but the argument is so in depth and convoluted that nobody save a few experts can grasp it.

  6. The batons are symbols of military command. The portrait seems to be of two related men or close friends, both serving as military commanders. Southampton was appointed General of the Horse in 1599, which would account for his baton. But as for De Vere?

  7. What if the painting depicts King Henry IV and Prince Hal --father and loyal son -- as they prepare to battle Hotspur and the rebels. Good propaganda for Southampton in the Tower, if painted in 1602.