This is not Christopher Marlowe

June 23 2014

Image of This is not Christopher Marlowe

Picture: Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

So says the historian and Marlowe scholar Dr. Peter Roberts, who has deduced that the age of the sitter and the flamboyance of the clothing don't work for the famous playwright (The Times reports). Nor, says Roberts, is it likely that Marlowe would have commissioned a portrait.

To be honest, the clothing and the 'he wouldn't have sat' theories don't really mean much. How do we really know what he wore, or who might have wanted his portrait? But the age thing is obviously important.

The 'Aetatis Suae' in portraits is often mistakenly taken to be mean the age - in this case 21 meaning he was aged 21. In fact it means he was 'in his 21st year', and so aged 20 in the modern sense. Marlowe was baptised (says says the DNB) on 26th February 1564, and we don't know exactly when he was born. But in those days babies were generally baptised very soon after birth. In relation to the portrait, therefore, you might think there is still a two month period at the beginning of 1585 (January and February) when Marlowe would have been 'Aetatis Suae 21'.

However, you must remember that we're dealing with a different calendar here, when the new year, confusingly, began on 25th March (Lady Day). We still operate more or less to this 'Old Style' in our business and financial calendar. So Marlowe's baptism actually took place in February 1563 according to the Elizabethan's style of dating, and the date in the picture must mean that it was painted after 25th March 1585 in the New Style. Therefore, that two month window of opportunity when Marlowe might have been in his 21st year in early 1585 no longer exists. This analysis comes with the caveat that working out dates like this makes my brain hurt, and I may well have got it all wrong (there was no further information in The Times).

In any case, there has always been little proof for the identification of the portrait as Marlowe, except that it was found (in seemingly the most curious circumstances) in 1952 at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where Marlowe went, and that 1585 was the year Marlowe received his degree.

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.