The portrait shows a balding man, dark haired, rather askew of eye, and wearing a white lace collar of a type familiar to anyone who has read anything about William Shakespeare.
The image itself is quite easily explained. It is a pencil copy, made in the 19th century by an antiquarian and archivist, of a 17th century portrait.
But is this an image of Shakespeare, and why is it in the collections of The National Archives at all?
Images of Shakespeare
Our portrait looks remarkably like the two known likenesses of Shakespeare: an engraving by Martin Droeshout for the First Folio and the bust effigy on Shakespeare’s tomb. Both are posthumous images, but both were commissioned by people who knew Shakespeare well. Since the two look reasonably similar to each other, they are likely as close as we can get to ‘knowing’ what Shakespeare looked like.
But wouldn’t it be fantastic to have a portrait from life? There is a long and disputatious history of other suggested portraits of Shakespeare. It’s obvious that many people, across many decades, have longed to get closer to the playwright in life.
The Wikipedia entry alone is lengthy. One of those listed is the original for the image we’re discussing today. Our sketch is a copy of an extant portrait, now owned by none other than the Royal Shakespeare Company. In the Wikipedia entry, you’ll find it called the ‘Venice’ portrait of Shakespeare. Continue reading »