Friday, December 28, 2012

Does This 1588 Portrait Miniature Depict Edward de Vere, William Shakespeare, or Both?

Hilliard miniature photographed in 1906 identified as "The Earl of Oxford"

Does the above miniature depict Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, as painted by Nicholas Hilliard in 1588?  Or is it Shakespeare?  Or neither, or both?  Below is a collection of side-by-side comparisons you'll need to decide for yourself. 

Leslie Hotson's final book Shakespeare by Hilliard argued that the beaver-hatted dandy seen below, painted by Hilliard in 1588, was William Shakespeare ad vivum.  Hotson's argument applied only to the authorship of the works, not to Stratford in particularHotson btw was a legendary Harvard gadfly who famously unearthed documents proving Kit Marlow had been murdered by spies. 
Hotson also proved the original Shakespeare miniature (V&A) had been scamped.  Its eye had been gouged out and repainted brown, and its left cheek had been scraped.  Hotson's eventually found and purchased a copy of the miniature painted by Hilliard's apprentice Oliver.  Hotson believed the Oliver copy (below right) depicted Shakespeare most accurately--with red hair and blue eyes. 

Okay, now let's return to the 1588 candidate de Vere miniature and touch on some important points.

1. The sitter on the Hilliard 1588 EdV miniature appears too young to be 38, de Vere's age in 1588, but, then again, Hilliard was a famously flattering painter of nobility  
2. The inscribed age of 30 years old in 1588 eliminates de Vere.  Seemingly . . . (read on, though)

3. It's possible the sitter's inscribed age has been altered.  The zero in "30" occupies only the top half of the allotted space.  Could the bottom half of the number 8 in "38" have been extirpated (thereby turning and 8 into a 0)?  De Vere was 38 in 1588, the year the miniature was painted.

Note above how the age of sitter (above his ear) is the only highly visible part of the inscription in this 1906 photograph.  Might this indicate the inscription had been scamped just like the Hotson Shakespeare miniature was?

4. Eye color can be misleading.  As varnish ages it yellows pigments and transforms eye color.  Also recall the Hotson miniature had had its eyes scamped brown.
click on for larger image
Above: From left: Gheeraerts the Elder engraving de Vere; the Welbeck de Vere, Hilliard called EdV, & Oliver copy Shakespeare (Hotson). 




  1. Edward de vere was born in 1548 actually, Cecil Lord Burligh had his birthdate changed to put folks off the scent of the changling child of the Oxfords. Mary Golding worked for Cesil and he married her to 16th earl of Oxford a month after baby was born. So he would have been 40 actually in this photo, 38 by his made up birthdate.

  2. did you know? If you want an example of Shakespeare's writing, I refer you to the epilogue to The Tempest. Even here I suspect he had help. Richard.

  3. Elizabethan picture colour is not very stable. Over the vast time gap between then and now the blue colour on a portrait could turn brown. Blond hair colour will turn red. Later people often touch the paintings to repair damage. There's clear evidence of a repair to damage to the Shakespeare image on his face. I don't think that the picture is de Vere, the date has not been altered and he looks like a 30 year old man not a 38 or 40 year old. Also the 30 year old man is not the same man as Shakespeare. But he is correctly depicted in the Hotson image.

  4. 1588 Portrait Miniature Depict Edward de Vere.. In fact Is 'Edwardus Vere' the first illegitimate son of the 17th Earl Oxford Edward de Vere [or Edward Vere]..

  5. If you use Microsoft's free face matching software as I did the other week. Then what it reveals is that the Hotson picture matches the face of the accepted Shakespeare image, plus also matches the picture which the Birthplace Trust says is Shakespeare. When tested against the death mask image, supposedly of Shakespeare, the software finds NO match.