This is not Shakespeare (ctd.)

January 12 2017

Video: Steve G Wadlow/YouTube

At long last, a break to the monotony of me banging on about the Cobbe Portrait not being Shakespeare; we have a new pretender called 'The Wadlow Portrait'. It is owned by an antiques dealer called Peter Wadlow. In the 1960s he acquired a portrait of an unknown man, and thought little of it. Many years later, an English professor who happened to be visiting Wadlow's house saw the picture, and said he thought it looked like Shakespeare. And ever since Mr Wadlow has been hoping to prove that his picture is William Shakespeare. He has created a website, www.isthiswilliamshakespeare.co.uk to set out his case that the sitter is indeed Shakespeare.

There is, however, no evidence at all that the sitter is William Shakespeare. Not one jot. The site has the usual cleverl annotated diagrams, pointing out imagined things like casts in an eye, which apparently means the sitter might be Shakespeare. The picture has been dated to about 1595, and the age of the sitter might fit that of Shakespeare at the time. But that's about it. Mr Wadlow has taken the picture to our friends at Lumiere in Paris, who have taken their usual whizzy scans, but have not revealed anything of note yet. Except they have made the above video, which 'merges' the Wadlow portrait with the Droeshout engraving (which does show Shakespeare) to apparently demonstrate that the sitters might be the same person. NB: you can do this kind of thing with so many contemporary portraits - which often followed the similar poses of the head - and imagine you're seeing the same sitter. If you don't believe me, have a go on Photoshop and see for yourself. There will be a point when the Wadlow portrait can be made to look like Elizabeth I.

One thorn in the side of the Wadlow portrait is a coat of arms at upper right which is, alas, not that of William Shakespeare. To get around this problem, the Wadlow site claims that this coat of arms is a later addition, and thus not at all connected to the sitter. The evidence for this is an analysis of the coat of arms by a Herald at the College of Heralds in London, who said that the coat of arms seen in the painting does not match a standard English coat of arms. Therefore, Wadlow says, the coat of arms must be something inaccurately imagined by a later artist. The possibility that the picture might not be English, or the coat of arms innacurately rendered by an artist unfamiliar with such things, seems not to have been entertained.

"Let none presume to wear an undeserved dignity."

Update - Steve Wadlow writes:

Thank you for writing an article about ‘The Wadlow’ portrait, (so named by others,) We are delighted to have an expert like yourself showing an interest, so I thought it only fair to answer the points you made.

I started looking into the identity of the sitter when there were two incidents in a relatively short period of time in which people mentioned that the portrait looked like William Shakespeare. Having no background in art history I have consulted experts such as (amongst others) Sir Roy Strong (ex National Portrait Gallery) Karen Hearn (ex-Tate) and Rupert Featherstone (Hamilton Kerr) they are all of the same opinion (after I had asked if it may be by Gheeraerts) that the painting was English in origin painted in the English style. 

You accuse me of not having entertained the idea that it might not be English, but having consulted such eminent people I did not think it was my place to dismiss their opinions.

The Hamilton Kerr also x-rayed the portrait and that showed up areas of over-painting. One of these seems to be beneath the coat of arms so I believe it is reasonable to deduct that this was added later. The x-ray also shows that there is another coat of arms and possibly some text beneath the overpainting.

As to your statement that this is not Shakespeare, you will no doubt have noticed that the website is called “Is this William Shakespeare” not this is William Shakespeare.

You also say that there is “not one jot of evidence.” The evidence that has come to light so far is that the painting came from a manor house that was under-going restoration in the late 1960s, in the Banbury area and from our research so far the best match is Great Tew. As you know, Great Tew was once owned by the Keck family. Robert Keck (of Temple) owned the Chandos portrait. You will also be aware that George Vertue noted that Keck owned two portraits of Shakespeare one which was the Chandos and another (now lost) oil on panel painted in 1595. (He left his estate to Francis Keck of Great Tew, (the Chandos had previously been sold.) I know that you haven’t yet seen my painting but it is oil on panel and has been dated at around 1595. Shakespeare was 31 in 1595 and there is a figure 31 on the painting.

There is also the facial similarity which I think is undeniable as do most of the people to whom I have shown it. This includes Lumiere technology who took it upon themselves to create the video comparison which you featured with you article.

I am not stating that the portrait is definitely Shakespeare [the website did state this, but since changed] but given what has happened so far I hope that you would agree that it is worth continuing my research. If nothing else I am learning a lot about William Shakespeare and Tudor painting.

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