Exhibition aims to present the true face of Shakespeare

More than three years' research for the biggest ever exhibition on Shakespeare in his own time has concluded we cannot know for certain what the great playwright looked like, but we can make the most educated guess yet.

Tarnya Cooper, who has curated the new show at the National Portrait Gallery, London, believes that the first painting to have been given to the institution when it was founded 150 years ago is almost certainly the best likeness we have.

The Chandos portrait dates from Shakespeare's lifetime and many scholars have long believed it was a true depiction of the Bard. Forensic examination of its paintwork has proved that distinctive details associated with artists at the time - the ear-ring and loose ties at his neck - are original.

This adds weight to the journal of an 18th century antiquarian, George Vertue, who traces the work back to Shakespeare via William Davenant, a theatre manager who was Shakespeare's godson, and John Taylor, the artist to whom the painting is attributed.

"There is no other surviving work by John Taylor, who was a talented but not great artist. If Davenant was making up claims, you would expect him to say it was by someone more famous," Dr Cooper said.

"I'm sure Vertue's evidence is absolutely accurate but we're relying on a chain of Chinese whispers. What is clear is that it was assumed to be Shakespeare within 50 years of his death. It's a pretty close link."

She added: "What is touching in a democratic way is that the founding portrait of this institution was not a monarch or a man of the nobility but a man of achievement." It was presented in 1856 by the Earl of Ellesmere.

The exhibition, Searching for Shakespeare, which opens today, brings together all the principal portraits purporting to represent him - showing they could not all have been the same man.

Dr Cooper argues that at least two, the Grafton and the Sanders, show other men of Shakespeare's time, the Soest and the Flower portraits date from after his death, and the Janssen was re-painted in the 18th century to look more like him.

The display includes early editions of the plays, 17th century clothes like those worn on stage and rare items relating to Shakespeare's life. These include the parish register from the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon in which details of his family life are recorded, a document objecting to the granting of a coat of arms to Shakespeare in which it is implied that a "player" was not worthy of such an honour, and a drawing of the Swan Theatre.

Shakespeare's famous will, in which he left his wife Anne Hathaway his "second-best bed", has been lent by the National Archives for the first time.

There is also a series of talks and events involving Professor Stanley Wells and actor Mark Rylance, as well as Bill Bryson and Peter Ackroyd. It runs until 29 May with an £8 admission charge.

Arts and Entertainment
A host of big name acts recorded 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' in London on Saturday
musicCharity single tops chart
News
people
News
peopleChildren leave in tears as Santa is caught smoking and drinking
Arts and Entertainment
Uuganaa Ramsay
arts + entsHow the proud name of a people became an offensive term
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
peopleFormer civil rights activist who was jailed for smoking crack cocaine has died aged 78
News
Boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, formerly known as Frank Maloney, entered the 2014 Celebrity Big Brother house
people
Sport
Dwight Gayle (left) celebrates making it 1-1 with Crystal Palace captain Mile Jedinak
premier leagueReds falter to humbling defeat
Arts and Entertainment
Morgana Robinson
arts + entsIt is not easy interviewing Morgana Robinson. Here's why...
News
video
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin