Germans raise eyebrow over Bard

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The Independent Online
German researchers claim to have discovered that a death mask of William Shakespeare, long disputed by scholars, is not only genuine but contains some of his eyebrow hairs. The statement follows a long dispute about whether the plaster cast of the dead man's face bought by the city of Darmstadt in 1960 is a genuine image of the world's most famous playwright.

Not surprisingly, British scholars have always ridiculed the idea while the Germans have stoutly defended it. Now Germany has brought out the heavy guns. A scholar revealed this week that the Federal Criminal Police force has reconstructed the face behind the mask and compared it to two other portraits. There were 17 points of agreement. It means that the two paintings, by Chandos and Flowers, are also genuine, according to Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel, a professor at Mainz University.

She added that the chief doctor of the Wiesbaden Eye Clinic, brought in to analyse an apparent ailment of the left eye in the two disputed paintings, said the mask also showed a slight swelling in the same place. This was probably due to a tumour.

The Chandos portrait is said to be of Shakespeare partly because it was originally owned by the poet Sir William Davenant, then the actor Thomas Betterton. The Flowers portraits, often found on pub signs, are disputed by scholars as much later representations.

But the professor maintained at a press conference that the scientific analyses showed the death mask and the two portraits portray "one and the same person". She also claimed that the Flowers was shown to have been the model for the engraving that appeared in a complete edition of Shakespeare's works in 1623, seven years after his death. This is generally accepted to be genuine.

Professor Hammerschmidt admitted that the findings went against expert opinion because the Flowers and Chandos paintings are often denounced as forgeries or of someone other than the playwright, and the death mask is also widely disputed. Etched with the date of Shakespeare's death, 1616, and held in the Hesse State and University Library in Darmstadt, it has been in southern Germany since the late 18th century when a nobleman from Mainz, Reichsgraf Franz von Kesselstatt, bought it in England.

Yesterday Britain poured cold water on German pretensions to own a piece of the Bard.. "We don't even know what colour Shakespeare's eyebrows were. No contemporary description gives his exact facial characteristics," said Roger Pringle, of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Pearls that were his eyes?

German scientists believe they have proven the authenticity of the Chandos and Flowers portraits by reconstructing Shakespeare's death mask and comparing the facial features. All three are said to reveal an eye ailment which is probably a symptom of cancer.