Friday, December 9, 2016

Is the Buttery Portrait the Long-Lost Template For the Famous Droeshout Engraving?

Above: the Droeshout Engraving and the Buttery Portrait (the Folger Shakespeare Library

Have you noticed that Shakespeare keeps getting better looking with each new portrait? Well, as it turns out, there are a lot of ugly mugshot Shakespeare portraits out there that are being ignored by scholars and curators. 

The Buttery Portrait, the property of The Folger Shakespeare Library in DC, is a disquieting portrait with an impressive provenance.  This would-be Shakespeare was discovered in 1850 by Queen Victoria’s personal restorer, Charles Buttery, and was later re-acquired in auction by Buttery’s son Horace, also a well-known restorer.  That these two respected conservators both purchased this picture would seem to indicate they took it seriously as a genuine portrait of Shakespeare.  

The Ugliest Shakespeares: the Buttery Shakespeare (left) and the Lumley (right).  Both portraits are owned by Folger Shakespeare Library
A 1902 Sotheby’s catalogue described the Buttery as dating from the 17th century and added, “ . . . from its resemblance to the engraving by Droeshout it is conjectured that the painter of this picture and the engraver must both have worked from a common original.”

Bearing in mind that scholars have been searching for the Droeshout Engraving template for centuries, why has this portrait been ignored by its own curators at the Folger?     

The Buttery portrays a man with a strangely-shaped head containing a somewhat discombobulated face highlighted by a twisted nose.  He wears a red jerkin—reminiscent of both the Stratford bust and Hunt portrait—as well as the trademark rabato collar.  The sitter certainly radiates a certain wit.

I was lucky enough to examine the Buttery in person at the Folger Library.  Waiting for it to be delivered to my table, I wondered how long it had been since any visitor had last examined this portrait which was kept in a fireproof boxThe Buttery to my eye is a wonderful portrait.  There are reasons to believe it might be an portrait of Shakespeare from life, but we will never know for sure unless the Folger Shakespeare Library changes its policies and starts to test its hoard of hidden Shakespeare portraits with x-ray and infra-reds.

The Folger Shakespeare Library needs to become a bit more curious about its own portraits.  If the Folger owns the Droeshout template then the world needs to know.

Below is the Buttery lined up in comparison with some other better known contenders for Shakespeare ad vivum.


The Hampton Court Shakespeare (Royal Collection) and the Buttery Portrait (FSL)
Vertue Chandos Bust Drawing (FSL) and the Buttery Portrait (FSL)

1 comment:

  1. I agree that the Folger needs to investigate their portraits. As an establishment for learning it is hard to see any justification for not doing so.

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