This is still not Shakespeare (ctd.)

April 30 2014

Image of This is still not Shakespeare (ctd.)

Picture: Discovery News

And still they come... From Germany now, via the Shakespeare scholar Prof. Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel, we have another version of the Cobbe/Janssen portrait, above left, and now a wholly new 'life portrait', above right, supposedly painted just a couple of years before Shakespeare died. This new portrait, termed the Boaden portrait, is claimed by the Professor to be the only portrait to show Shakespeare's whole body, but also tells us that he liked lurchers, that he was short, and that he suffered from Mikulicz's syndrome. 

Let's look at the evidence presented by Prof. Hammerschmidt-Hummel (of the University of Mainz) for the Boaden portrait (quoted on Discovery News):

"I am calling it the Boaden Portrait because I found it in a rare, richly illustrated edition of James Boaden's work of 1824," Hammerschmidt-Hummel said.

Called "An Inquiry into the Authenticity of Various Pictures and Prints, which ...have been offered to the Public as Portraits of Shakespeare," the book displays the portrait as an engraving -- with no caption.

"Nevertheless, my research in close interdisciplinary collaboration with experts from other disciplines shows we are dealing here with an authentic portrait," Hammerschmidt-Hummel said.

"The portrait could only have come about by direct contact of the artist with his model, that is Shakespeare," said Jost Metz, a dermatologist who examined the portraits. Metz specializes in diagnosing signs of disease in Renaissance portraits.

In other words, there is no evidence whatsoever that the print is based on an original portrait painted in Shakespeare's lifetime. This is a perfectly harmless 19th Century engraving, an imaginary portrait of the sort regularly made for 18th and 19th Century publications. Saying it is a life portrait of Shakespeare on the basis of a dermatologists's view just won't do.  

But it gets worse!

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.

"Renaissance painters faithfully reproduced not only the features of their subjects, but also any signs of disease," Hammerschmidt-Hummel said.

A team of doctors analyzed both paintings and concluded that, in the Boaden portrait, the Mikulicz's syndrome and the additional swelling on the upper left eyelid, interpreted as lymphoma by the ophthalmologist Walter Lerche in 1995, had grown considerably.

The doctors say that the swelling on the left upper eyelid of the Wörlitz picture is just appearing and less noticeable.

With reference to the nasal corner of the left eye of both new portraits, Metz, the dermatologist, stressed that this was a pathological symptom all the authentic images had in common.

The evidence presented for the copy of the Cobbe/Janssen portrait is a little more interesting, tho' one wonders how reliable it is. The copy is apparently lost and only known through a 1936 black and white photo. But this hasn't stopped the Professor confidently claiming it have been painted from life (tho' it looks to me clearly to be a much later work, probably late 17th or early 18th Century):

According to the German academic, one portrait, possibly painted around 1594, when the poet was about 30 years old, depicts Shakespeare as a young London playwright and author of sonnets who has reached the first height of his unparalleled literary career.

"Showing amazing self-confidence, the man appears to cast his spell over the viewer with a touch of a triumphant smile," Hammerschmidt-Hummel said.

Hung in the bedchamber of Prince Franz (1740-1817), in the Gothic House of the Dessau-Wörlitz Garden Realm, the 2.4- by 2-foot portrait was seized in 1945 by the Soviet army.

"It has been lost ever since. Today there is only a high-quality, monochrome photograph from 1936, now in the Photo Marburg Picture Archive," Hammerschmidt-Hummel said.

Archival research shows Prince Franz brought the picture from his trip to England from 1763 to 1764. Records show it was given to him as a gift by Thomas Hart, a distant relative of Shakespeare.

The presence of the bald head shows that this portrait is a copy after the Janssen portrait, which belongs to the Folger Library in Washington, was over-painted with its bald head. Quite when it was over-painted nobody knows for sure. But it must have been done prior to an engraving of the 'bald' type in 1770.

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