Saturday, July 26, 2014

Does This Portrait, Once Owned by the Nazi Hermann Goering, Depict William Shakespeare in Italy?

Above: crude mash-up between the 1623 Droeshout Engraving (left, behind beard) and Getty Museum's Unknown Gentleman by Veronese
 Mark Anderson, author of the excellent Shakespeare By Another Name (the book that made me lean Oxford) recently directed me to this newly considered Italian portrait, fresh from a restoration at the Getty Museum, where it was gifted after previously being owned by Nazi theater mongrel Hermann Goering (the Nazis, and Goering in particular, were obsessed with Shakespeare).  Mr. Anderson thought the sitter in the portrait resembled Edward de Vere, and since the portrait was dated, coincidentally, to the time de Vere was in Italy, he sent me the picture to ponder. 

Mr. Anderson was not endorsing this picture as depicting Edward de Vere but was intrigued by certain similarities.   

From the Getty Museum description: "Best known for his large decorative fresco cycles, Veronese did not paint many portraits. For him to have taken the time to paint this large, impressive portrait points to the commission's importance." 

This will be, for the most part, an essay in captions.  I've throw together a fistful of portrait comparisons, both to the traditional Shakespeare portraits as well as to some portraits of Edward de Vere.  

Also, while comparing, please bear in mind that the Shakespeare critic Charles Wisner Barrell, back in the fifties, proposed the theory that all the traditional portraits of Shakespeare were overpainted pictures of Edward de Vere.  It's a theory I've grown to respect.

In 2010, a copy of Hamlet, inscribed by Hermann Goering to an actor, sold for five thousand pounds.  Goering and Goebbels were said to have had a falling out over a production of Richard III, which was apparently being used to satire Goebbels.  From The Guardian:
One generation of Germans after another revered Shakespeare, identifying Hamlet in particular . . .  The Nazis were almost as keen on the English bard as the Romantic poets were. Hermann Goering sponsored an extended Shakespeare season in 1930s Berlin, and even in April 1940, Shakespeare's birthday provoked national celebration. A few months later, the Germans encouraged the staging of Shakespeare plays in a British prisoner of war camp in Bavaria, importing costumes from the Munich opera house.
The Nazis, under Goering, also amassed 1/5 of the art treasures in the world in an attempt to overcome their massive inferiority complex by creating a museum worthy of Paris or New York.  

Above: Getty Unknown Man (left) and the Droeshout Engraving from the 1662 First Folio (right).  The Droeshout is the only 100% authentic portrait of Shakespeare.  Many scholars believe the engraving was based on an existing portrait of Shakespeare that has since been lost to history (others have argued the Droeshout template portrait is the Flower portrait seen just below.)  Please note the almost lobe-less ear on the Getty.  The eye shapes and eyelids in both portraits seem identical, the mouths are compatible, and the noses, through depicted from different angles, appear interchangable.

Above: the Getty Unknown Man by Paolo Veronese (left) and the Flower Portrait of Shakespeare (Royal Shakespeare Company).  The Flower portrait was controversially debunked as the template portrait used to create Shakespeare's 1623 Droeshout engraving.

Above: Edward de Vere as engraved by Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder (NPG London, left); the Getty Unknown Man (right).  A few interesting details to ponder (other than that they are wearing the same shoes and that there gams are twinned).  Note how they both have close cropped, almost nappy red hair that adheres like a skull cap to their heads.  The faces appear consistent (see below comparison). The portraits are dated only a few years apart.
Above: close-up comparison of de Vere and Getty's Unknown Gent
Above: the Welbeck Abbey Edward de Vere (left) the Ashbourne Portrait mid-restoration 1988 (Folger Library, center), and the Getty Unknown Man (right)
The Getty  Unknown Man (left), the Shakespeare Hilliard Shakespeare Miniature (center), and the Nicholas Hilliard portrait of Edward de Vere from 1588 (Duke of Buccleuch and Queensbury Collection).  Harvard scholar Leslie Hotson wrote an entire book arguing that the gull in the center portrait had to be Shakespeare.  At no point did Professor Hotson noticed his Shakespeare's resemblance to Edward de Vere.

Details: the left hand of the Getty Unknown Man (right) and the right hand of the Ashbourne Portrait (Folger Shakespeare Library).


The identity of this man is a mystery. Originally, scholars thought the painting was a self-portrait by Paolo Veronese, but no one can confirm this speculation since Veronese's appearance is otherwise completely unknown. Best known for his large decorative fresco cycles, Veronese did not paint many portraits. For him to have taken the time to paint this large, impressive portrait points to the commission's importance.

The man leans on the base of a structure with fluted columns. In a niche between the columns is a marble sculpture of a draped female figure, of which only the lower portion is visible. Carved reliefs, barely discernible, adorn the sides of the architectural base. These clues may refer to the subject's profession, perhaps that of a sculptor or architect. In the background at the lower left is the Venetian basilica of San Marco, placed in an imaginary rural setting. Most likely, the inclusion of San Marco alludes to the sitter's association with the church or the Venetian state.  

Update: the Getty did not do infra-red testing on the portrait, and the x-ray result were of no help in deciphering the reliefs they believe vital in identifying the sitter.

Helpful links: 
~Suspicious Masterpieces: Goring in Paris (Daily Beast)
~Writings of Charles Wisner Barrell
~High resolution jpeg of Veronese's portrait at Wikicommons
~Earlier post: Does This 1588 Hilliard Miniature Depict Edward de Vere, Shakespeare, or Both? 


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