Monday, 29 March 2021

A Self-Satisfied Pork Butcher?

So what did  William Shakespeare really look like? Most people if asked would talk about high forehead, receding hairline, thin moustache, trimmed beard

Yes, like this. This is the famous engraving which appeared in the frontispiece of the First Folio, and was done by Flemish engraver Martin Droeshout. This was published in 1623, seven years after the artist's death.

Or maybe you know this painting - known as the "Chandos portrait" Painted between 1600 and 1610, many believe this was the basis for the Droeshout engraving. [It was owned by the Chandos family for 130 years] Nothing was written about it till 1719 - a century after the Bard's death. 

This painting is Number One in the National Gallery Collection - donated by Francis Egerton, 1st Earl of Edgemere, who founded this wonderful gallery.

There's also the Cobbe portrait, but that's not given much credence nowadays. Sir Roy Strong, historian, said that any suggestion it was WS was "codswallop"

But there is one more depiction of Shakespeare, which is not a two-dimensional piece- it is this effigy of Shakespeare in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford Upon Avon.

This was installed over his grave, several years after his death, and always believed to have been a posthumous memorial, not an actual likeness. 20th century critic John Dover Wilson  declared this effigy to look like "a self satisfied pork butcher" [the more I read of JDW, the less I warm to him]

And now- in 2021 - over four hundred years after Will shuffled off his mortal coil, Prof Lena Cowen Orlin [Georgetown University USA] has revealed some fascinating research. Orlin says that in the 17th century, a sculptor called Gerard Johnson was responsible for the limestone bust - but she maintains Gerard mainly created pieces for gardens- his brother, Nicholas was a tomb-maker. It is known that Nicholas produced another effigy in Stratford- for John Combe, who died in 1615 and was a friend of Shakespeare. Nicholas had a workshop in London, close to the Globe, so would have seen Shakespeare. He also travelled with his sculptures to see them installed- so he would have been in Stratford at the right time.

She believes that Shakespeare commissioned this effigy himself [this was a common thing to do] and that the painted inscription was written before his death - leaving space for a date to be added later. It's all very interesting - I guess we will never actually know.

I like to think that maybe he looked something like this. [those Coren-Mitchells are very witty, and they certainly have a way with words]

1 comment:

  1. It is interesting how we don't know for certain what he looked like.


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