Shakespeare Portraits Reveal Bard at Different Ages: Photos

Newly uncovered portraits of William Shakespeare are compared with the established depictions of the bard.

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Experts disagree about which of Shakespeare's portraits are real or fake. There is no definitive portrait of the Bard painted in his lifetime. Only two likenesses, both posthumous, are widely accepted as authentic: a bust on his tomb in Stratford's Holy Trinity Church (right), restored and repainted several times, and the Droeshout engraving, used as a frontispiece to the Folio edition of his plays in 1623 (left).

In 2006, Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel, professor of English at Mainz University, Germany, claimed amid some controversy that four images of Shakespeare were the true likeness. The portraits were the Chandos portrait (top left), the Darmstadt Shakespeare death mask (top right), what she called the original Flower portraits (bottom left) and the Davenant bust (bottom right).

According to the German academic, the other two portraits help reconstruct different stages of Shakespeare's life and diseases. One dates from his youth, the second from his old age. Possibly painted around 1594, when the poet was about 30 years old, this portrait depicts Shakespeare as a relatively young man exuding self-confidence and a triumphant smile. At that time, Shakespeare had reached the first height of his unparalleled literary career.

The portrait hung in the bedchamber of Prince Franz (1740-1817), in the Gothic House of the Dessau-Wörlitz Garden Realm. Seized in 1945 by the Soviet army, it has been lost ever since. Only a high-quality, monochrome photograph from 1936 remains. Records show the portrait was given to Prince Franz in 1763-64 as a gift by Thomas Hart, a distant relative of Shakespeare.

The other portrait represents the Bard as an affluent, older gentleman living in retirement. He sits on an elaborately-carved chair, holding a book in his left hand and resting his right hand on the head of an adoring dog, sitting to his right. According to the German researcher, this painting shows for the first time the whole person of Shakespeare.

While careful examination of the image has even determined the breed of the dog, which, according to the London veterinary Bruce Fogle, appears to be a Lurcher, (a cross between a Greyhound and a working dog) nothing is known about the provenance and history of the portrait. Hammerschmidt-Hummel found the portrait in a rare, richly illustrated edition of James Boaden's work of 1824. Called an "Inquiry into the Authenticity of Various Pictures and Prints, which ...have been offered to the Public as Portraits of Shakespeare," the book displayed the portrait as an engraving.

All the details in the image suggest Shakespeare had his portrait made at his Stratford residence New Place at the the age of about 50, presumably for the last time -- about two years before his death.

The tests for authenticity on the new portraits brought to light a series of facial marks and idiosyncrasies that correspond to those found on all the other Shakespeare likenesses. In particular, the two newly found pictures show a growth on the upper left eyelid and swellings in the nasal corner of the left eye, which seem to represent different stages of a disease and are present in all portraits used for comparison. Moreover, a montage of the Wörlitz and Boaden portraits with the Droeshout engraving shows "astounding correspondences and agreements." Hammerschmidt-Hummel said. "Such precise correlations can only occur when the persons depicted and compared are identical," she said.