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.


  1. The resemblance with the Cobbe Southampton is stunning: nose, shape face, curly hair, hairline but above all that peculiar ear shape! It's clearly the same man, a bit aged.

  2. All of the portraits except the Cobbe feature Southampton's distinctive hair style, the kewpie-doll coiffe above the forehead. The Hilliard is the intermediate link between the smooth hair of the majority of portraits and the curly do of the Cobbe. The shape of the Unknown Courtier's upper lip is a broad V rather than Southampton's delicate cupid's bow. Didn't artists use face patterns, which could account for why so many portraits are similar. I read that somewhere about portraits of Elizabeth I, and it's quite obvious a pattern was used when you compare portraits of her.

    1. i have just spent this last hour sending my information and it appears not to have worked. i will try again. i have been working on this research for years, mary browne the mother of henry wriothesley, daughter of sir anthony browne, henry V111"s master of the horse would be my aunt from 400 years ago. he is thought to have been Elizabeth 1's cousin, but more than likley her youngest brother. shakespeare was the earl's tutor [no pun intended], and i am quite sure that mary browne is the dark lady of the sonnets. melencholia and mania have run in the family for centuries. dark is another word for depression, as is noir, or even dank. who wouldn't be depressed if one was 13, and forced to marry when you were 13, to cover the indescretions of your king. there is so much more to my theory however. i wish to make the point that the family resemblence of my sons, especially the oldest, owen douglas browne blank, his father is a sinclair and his two brothers is unmistakeable. owen most decideably ressembles the portrait of the earl in the tower. in these days with tv and movies about families we see people portrayed as looking alike, when they clearly don't, because in reality family members do resemble each other, even over centuries. the earl looked like that, painting of him in the tower, at the age of 29. my sons look like him. as cardinal wolsely said "all these people look alike." it's not the idea that the artist was less skilled in producing a portrait. i have always actually been attracted to hilliard's miniature of the earl who as captured by hilliard, looked like family. there is so much more to the story. i would hope to be able to share my research with someone from the NPG. I share a web site with my husband, using both names,dougNjaneeene, facebook or my cell is long distance for usa, 248-530-3940.

    2. i just realized that i had not identified my self as an retired art and art history phd. i find this web site very exciting, and hope to hear from some one in this field of research. i have seen that the earl of oxford, as well as sir fransis bacon are thought to be sons of elizabeth 1. there are paintings which appear to be elizabeth 1 in maternity clothing, resembling the clothing of the woman in the marriage of arnolfini, by jan van eyck. what doctor would refuse to identify the queen, as any other than a virgin, if that was what she wished. for centuries women have had means to replicate a hymen. i mean how silly can we be in the year 2016. i have a sister that still insists her two pregnancies were immaculate conception, which of course no one believed, remember i mentioned mania in the family, which often presents as hyper-sexuality. elizabeth did not have the earl executed for treason, which makes the question of who his father was, very important.hazzard a guess. remember he was released, and was well received at the court of james 1,probably because of strong family connection.

  3. 1/31/16 janeene browne,please notice the e. i have had a day to think about this blog,and have some ideas. in the double portrait, with both men in black suits of armor, i would like to suggest that the younger man appears to have a much smaller, almost the look of a chinless person. could this be a slight against the earl? i don't believe so. i would compare the face of the earl, in the tower painting with the identified earl in the procession portrait, 1600. i would date this picture earlier however, because everything needs to be validated by date. however the earl is walking in the procession, with other people of the court, some carrying elizabeth's litter. the earl does not seem to be helping those that carry the litter,his left arm is partly concealed. he is dressed in almost a silvery white outfit. the queen is in white. he is to the right, forground, almost by himself. if he looks like anyone he looks like his mother mary browne, daughter of sir anthony browne. it is painted as the english school, almost primative. if anyone would ask me i can point you to jean baptiste bernadotte in david's painting of napolean's corination. bernadotte, will of course later become the king of sweden. southhampton resembles also james 1, and charles 1. this newer portrait does not resemble southampton. the unknown courtiers nose is all wrong. southampton looks like my sons. look for the portrait of "the three browne brothers" one time at rabby, and later at burhley house. it can actually be sold in print form, from the men in this interesting portrait resemble my dad and his brothers. the unknown courtier looks too modern to my eyes,especially the colors, and brush strokes. it's so easy to run with your first idea in attribution and provenance. you do have to be careful because the value of art is constantly increasing. hopefully my ideas will be considered. meanwhile i will need to find the correct way to put my modern photo's on the blog for all to see. please remember that cardinal wosley told t. cromwell,"all these people look alike". so many were related.

  4. Oh Ms are a wag...