ART OF DECEPTION
CULT OR NO CULT there is still something wrong with the way the Elizabethans painted pictures and in particular the Queen’s. Artists clearly had moral restrictions placed on them or they were self-imposed. This is best demonstrated by the absence of eyebrows in pictures. However if the mask of Mary Stuart’s face is her or was taken from some woman's face at that time, then it is clear that women did not always cut them off, as many academics think. Nevertheless most of the female portraits (English) look very odd to modern eyes. Elizabeth’s even more so. Did the people then view them strange to look at? The answer must be yes. So why did they not make female images that looked like the real women? Men’s pictures on the whole seem to be reasonably accurate. You can see resemblances to men alive now in them. The only portraits that look like how real women appear are the miniatures. Larger scale paintings of women rarely capture a good likeness to any person living, never mind those who are dead.
Discrimination in pictures seems to be at work. Feminist might argue that because artists were mostly male then this would answer the question. There is something wrong with such a theory. Men would tend to portray these women as being very beautiful. In some cases this may be true. Hilliard’s miniature of his wife is certainly one of his best. Yet you would expect his wife to be painted just like that. It certainly isn’t the case with many of the women painted. Perhaps the artists were not very good at painting women? Can't be that! Many are very good at painting men, so why the big difference with females? While it may be true that some are not good at painting scenery, especially in perspective (Hilliard himself was hopeless at it!) Yet many are good at fine details, so why should the female face flummox them?
We could also ask if the men are painted good, why didn’t their wives and so forth, object to their own painted likeness and for them to be treated in the same way. No there wasn’t a feminist movement then, though if this was the case it would surely have started one! What about the reverse of this in the men’s pictures, why did artists go into detail on their faces?
As I ponder over these problems, I kept being drawn back to the fact that a woman was on the throne, not a man. As I have already spoken of the problems of Elizabeth and having portraits painted, I do not need to add emphasis to that aspect of her. Yet we need to go into greater depth on many of the portraits that are supposed to look like her. This I think is necessary, because I think it can resolve some of the above problems.
Leaving aside the miniatures for a while, we can look at a few earlier pictures of the Queen to start. The first must be the coronation picture; here we see the first of many problems, connected to the Queen. This one is unavoidable and plagues all of them; it’s a question of age. No not when it was painted, though it is a later copy of the original, but the length of time since it was painted. Four hundred years plus. Like most things paint changes over time. Art experts know what materials these pictures were painted with; they also know how stable each one is over time. Yet I am not convinced they can predict what a colour will do after 400 years. These paintings have been hung in many different places, not just galleries and museums. Today we can stop colour change and decay or restore most paintings. Yet how do they know what these paintings looked like 400 years ago, if you really do not know how paint changes over that time. The climate of the place they are placed will change from day to day; others are all random, pollution, smoke, cleaning methods. The artist too did not just pop into his local shop for a tin of Dulux either! They mixed there own colours, though they did buy the base colours, plus he or she did not leave a manual as to how each individual picture was painted. So nobody can tell me that any picture (restored or not) looked like it did then as it does now!
That doesn’t explain why the two sex’s pictures are different. Though many white faced women may have a more pinkie look to them, including the Queen’s coronation picture. So the colours of these pictures change, dramatic loss can be seen in some. Silver pearls are now black. Yes, I do know there are black ones! Green and Yellow seem to be the worst offenders. The yellow loss on this portrait must affect the colour of her hair. Though this is still within the descriptions of her, it’s much worse on other pictures of the Queen with it turning or leaving it red, making us believe she had red hair! Now I can imagine art historians saying "NO NO it was painted that colour". We thus need a test picture! Today when pictures and colour things are printed, a pattern of colours is printed, mostly on the edge of whatever is being printed, though sometimes it can be seen say on colour newspapers for example. The printer compares his original pattern with what's been printed and can adjust the colour on future copies. Of course, 16th Century painters did not run off copies with machines. There are copies though and we can compare colours between these. Still there is one picture of Elizabeth that has a colour pattern that could be used as our test, though we cannot be certain of the perfect colour match.
Rainbow affectI first started thinking that the Rainbow Portrait of the Queen was much earlier than 1599.
However the thing that caught my eye was the strange object the Queen held in her hand. It looks today like the ghost of some kind of chair back! Yet it's a rainbow, hence the picture’s name. Close up you can see the bands. Though I don't care what anyone says, surely rainbows are meant to be brightly coloured, yet this one isn’t! Plus where is the yellow and green? And blue come to that?
You now know the test pattern; yes it’s the rainbow. So if this were brightly coloured when painted, and lost this much in 400 years, what would have happen to the rest of the colours in this picture. In this painting Elizabeth has red hair; however with the yellow gone, could it have been blond hair! What colour I wonder was the now orange cloak originally, was there any blue in the picture? The patterning on the right sleeve could have blue and yellow, gold on it. The now stone coloured cloak has lines of pattern on it, which may have been more elaborate, also the bodice and sleeves (body) colour has gone either white or has a brownish stain. This suggests that either bad varnish is responsible, or more likely this has also degraded and with the white patches unevenly. The colour of the pearls may give us a clue to what the original pigment was on these two parts. These pearls can be either white or silver, and with the bodice hue matching the pearls so much so, the pearls leading to the large cluster are nearly camouflaged. As the white lace seems intact though perhaps dull, this surely means the pearls, the bodice and sleeves, where silver when first painted. It must be said that this picture was very highly coloured. The reason for this is that Elizabeth is the sun, bringing out the rainbow, which is what the artist (unknown) is trying to say. The Latin motto adds emphasis to this; not without the Sun a Rainbow, it says translated properly. I next saw the rainbow terminating at the strange cloak and realised what colour that garment was. Gold! What else do you find at the end of a rainbow? Before I leave this picture its worth pointing out that I think the original artist never painted the eyes and ears on the gold cloak. Indeed parts of the cloak don't have them attached. In some cases they cross over the folds in the material. This early vandalism of the painting was probably brought about by a later member of the Cecil family. I would certainly dispute that it was because the Queen could hear and see everything that went of, as some historians have stated. Really she would not want to go down in history as a nosey parker, would she? Many people (after her death) don’t like her views on religion and the execution of several people. They could have added such things, shortly after her death in 1603. Perhaps Robert Cecil had them added when James Stuart saw the portrait for the first time making some comment, about her, which fits in with the eyes. There’s another possibility due to the Queen’s very own eyes, the way this image has developed. It’s purely a physical thing, in that those black eyes of Liz’s had an unnerving effect on people, when she looked at them. I’ve seen this is one modern woman whose eyes were so striking they might even make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, when looking (quite normally) at you. Lastly that hat is amazing with the bands of pearls, then mixed with what are now black figure eights, it’s hard to say what colour it was, although the hat even today has delicate patterns still visible.
Armada bowsAnother test picture could be the Armada Portrait. Keeping in touch with reality, the ships in
this one appear to be in a sea of sand! Blue therefore would be the correct colour and once again appears absent from the portrait. Like the previous picture a second version was made. It has been chopped down, yet comparison can be made between the two. The reds in both pictures have massive variations in hue, although I think that the bows (some) might have been scarlet. The other bow colour was blue. In one picture this blue has become chocolate! The other picture has oyster, for both colours of bows, with streaks of grey/blue on the original blue bows. So both pictures would have had alternate Scarlet and Blue bows. Once again it suggests a massive loss of colour and the loss being variable on both pictures. The globe has lost its water colour and sit on a cloth, which would have been that beige green style cloth. The picture must have inspired Shakespeare and his friends to name the later theatre after the globe.
While looking at these pictures I noticed that the head and ruff were strangely put on to the rest of the body. The complete one looks as if it had been stuck on or painted over whatever was underneath. The reduced picture has the ruff destroying part of the jewels; the pearls (hung around her neck) are roughly treated and outer strands missing as they go under the ruff. The full picture has them disappearing completely under the ruff, which should show a trace of them! So this looks like, in both these paintings, the artist who painted the face of the Queen and had to remove it and then paint a new face on. Perhaps even a different artist was used; maybe the original artists refused to alter the picture!
This has to have been the Queen’s doing. The originals were too good looking for Elizabeth! Once again colour loss might mean that even these white faces were not painted that colour and the red hair again was blond! Both of these features have become synonymous with the Queen’s image yet both are false.
To demonstrate the difference between a portrait as it appears now and how it would have looked then is to put back the colour. Now I’m no artist so what I’m going to show you is by no means perfect, but it will have to suffice. So I have put back the colour to the Armada picture.
Darnley handEvidence of changes can be seen on earlier pictures too. The Queen's left hand on the Darnley
Portrait is very lifelike; on the other hand - literally - the artist has not grasped how to paint hands. This pale hand looks deformed compared with her left hand, which has flesh tones remaining and shadow tone. The head was remodelled by the same artist has the right hand; I believe the original head that was undoubtedly first placed on the body, was by the left-hand artist. It wasn't at an angle as the present head, but was like the coronation picture, face forward. The ruff was U-shaped and ghostly patterns can be seen around the shoulder and in the dark background. When it was then painted becomes a problem. For the two artists may have not seen one another at all! A date of 1575 has been attached to the picture and this may have been the case for the second painter. Yet the first painter may have started this as early as 1559. So the second artist was probably told to repaint it 16 years later. The reason must be that the Queen was sick of looking at it, like some of us now she would cringe at the sight of it. Even more so with her inferiority complex!
Wanstead womenThe Wanstead Portrait is full of symbolism, the Queen clearly likes her clothes to be shown in full advantage, yet the three parts of her body that stick out of this dress are subdued. Like a
hermit crab ready to withdraw into its shell, so is Elizabeth here. However the artist then paints three figures in the background. Robert Dudley who must have commissioned the picture is seen chatting to two women. The woman on the left is perhaps Robert's sister and close friend of the Queen. The middle woman is actually Queen Elizabeth. Robert of course knew what the Queen looked like and although he didn't have the nerve to have the main figure altered, he could have the three of them added later, with the real face of Elizabeth. Maybe he thought she wouldn't notice the small face, as she did have a visual problem. It also fits in with a sketch of a woman that was credited as being unknown for many years, though is now said to be the Queen, something I drawn the same conclusion to as soon as I saw it, long before it was credited as her.
Sometimes portraits were used as gifts to foreign Kings and Queens or possible husbands. So the Queen would be reluctant to send her true likeness and sends others, which always came late. Henri Navarre was besotted with her! Presumably sending a fairly good picture to Catherine his sister (she wasn't going to marry her) Henri intercepted it and wouldn't part with it, pointing out that Elizabeth was to blame for her “great beauty”. Not surprisingly when Sir Henry Unton shows him a miniature of her Henri, goes wild with passion and kisses the miniature three times. This is despite Sir Henry saying it comes far short of her beauty! These people had nice things to say about the Queen and though her looks were greatly admired, her actions were sometimes not, even more so in Europe, where she had no control on what was said and painted. Equally where countries were supportive of English policy, it wouldn’t mean that the Queen approved of some of the pictures painted. One Flemish picture does show an attractive Elizabeth feeding a Dutch cow with Philip II sat on it. She may well have objected to the cow, yet I suspect the strongest objections would be the portrayal of herself. We don’t know if she did pose or she even saw the picture, though the fact it’s still with us may indicate she did neither. Her own personally attitude may testify to why there are not more pictures of her. Sir Walter Raleigh makes it clear that all ‘common’ painters’ pictures were destroyed by her orders. That was in England were artists were trying to make money from this popular monarch. Documentary evidence also shows that they were being sold in the streets of the major towns. Some may have been better likeness than those we have today! Like our Queen, she did wander around the south of England, with common artists, like press photographers now, may have tailed the Queen around to get a true likeness. The artists in European countries did not have the same advantage or any restrictions on what they painted. The English ambassadors sometimes complained about some of the pictures they saw. The ‘gutter’ tactics of these painters were not just confined to the politics of the day. The officials mostly objected to indecent or rude pictures of the Queen. As far as I can gather these pictures no longer survive, all we have of them is the descriptions by those who sent reports back to England. Such comments are often short, like she was on a horse, with her right hand lifting up her clothes to reveal parts of her body. Perhaps it was too embarrassing even to write about for the ambassadors.
Elizabeth not StuartThere again there are cases where people and the owners of some pictures don’t know what they are looking at. The popular image of Liz has made it to impossible for anyone to
recognise an authentic portrait of her. Once this image is rejected completely, some pictures of other people can now be disputed. So I discovered a picture, I think dating around 1565, which was credited as being Mary Queen of Scots. Hardly surprising when its frame has her coat of arms and the same can also be seen on a plaque (hung on a tree) inside the depiction. The blond woman, shown as young looking, is bedecked with jewels, rings and pomanders. However this does not mean the blond haired woman seen is Mary! She also has long fingers, more importantly she has NO cross or crucifix. Stuart’s dress style, seen in other portraits, is simpler than this picture. Her crucifix is generally shown (in full-length pictures) and has even survived, finishing up in the hands of the current Duke of Norfolk. The face bears little resemblances to neither the Francois Clouet picture of Mary, nor the picture of her youth, which does match with later portraits. The blond woman picture has no match with any later portraits, in the face or otherwise, so it can’t be Mary Stuart!
What would explain the coats of arms on the frame and inside, if it were not Mary? The answer is simple. Stuart owned the picture and that’s why they are on it. It was consider being either very valuable, or considerably important to her. This isn’t the only occasion when Mary puts her name on a picture for ownership purposes. A picture of Bess of Hardwick was thought to be her because of her name on it. This was even credited with being a mistake, but clearly the lettering was done when the picture was painted and presumably by the artist. He or she could have rectified this wrong name very soon after.
It is known that Elizabeth did not consider there meeting up to be the proper thing to do, even though Mary (by 1570) was in England. The custom with all diplomatic relations between monarchs was to exchange portraits. For 18 years the only thing that these two Queens saw of each other was through art. We know this from the correspondence between them, the only other way they communicated, apart from ambassadors. It is also known that they exchanged pictures early in Mary’s captivity. Most historians believed that the picture Mary got, during this initial swap, was destroyed or lost. Yet it becomes clear from the previous observations, that this picture is a swap picture!
So this is one of the earliest accurate pictures of Queen Elizabeth. There’s more too! In the Victoria and Albert Museum is an unfinished miniature by Nicholas Hilliard, of an unknown woman, possibly dating to around the same time as the above? The face does resemble the face in the picture owned by Mary, which I will henceforth call the ‘Exchange Portrait’. So, although I did say the miniature was unfinished, to the artist that painted it he considered it complete. For what we find, is that the face is finished, but the dress is just drawn in with no details. Artists then, worked from an ‘approved’ pattern of the Queen, rather than having her sit for every study. The important part was the face, once the pattern artist had completed that; other artists would work from that. The clothes could be added later either with made up designs, or samples of real clothes on a dummy or a model. An example of this can be seen in another Mary Stuart picture that again is more like Elizabeth, which I will call the Crown Portrait because the Queen wears a crown in it, having said that it’s not as good a rendering as others of Elizabeth. The ‘crown’ in question is not the Scottish Coronation Crown, as that was not destroyed, unlike the English one, during Cromwell’s time. It also does not match the English one either, which seems to have been a bit like the present Scottish Crown. More to the point the sitter’s face doesn’t match any of the known images of Mary Stuart, from either when she was young or later.
Once again the V&A museum’s miniature is that of Queen Elizabeth, plus a ‘pattern’ miniature to boot! Clearly the unknown artist used it for the Exchange Portrait’s face. Another drawing entitled Shakespeare’s Consort was thought to be Anne Hathaway, the Bard’s wife. Once again this can easily be shown to be the Queen, by comparing it with the above portraits. If this picture was connected to William in any way, it is further proof of her beauty and of their relationship. Indeed the word ‘consort’ fits the Queen better than his wife would.
PhoenixThe dress style with fluted puffs of material on the sleeves in the Exchange Portrait crops up on the Phoenix Portraits. Both of them are supposed to be by Nicholas Hilliard. What is interesting
is the hand, clutching a rose in one depiction, a glove in the other. It compares well to the good hand in the Darnley Portrait. In fact I think that Hilliard must be responsible for the hand and dress in that picture, my belief based on that he specifically draws Liz’s hands to his knowledge of them. If you compare his hands of the Queen, to the other hands of the people he has painted, no match can be found with the Queen’s hands. This leaves little doubt that these pictures of Liz’s hands are as unique as fingerprints. The hands on all three portraits have the finger and thumb spaced like an arch or doorway - Hilliard’s trademark for the Queen. However the Exchange Portrait hands do not and Hilliard cannot be its painter. This may point to this picture being painted, before Nicholas started painting. I know this does contradict what I said about the pattern miniature, being the forerunner of this picture! But this does mean that Elizabeth did sit for another artist and then sat for Hilliard. He produced a pattern similar, yet independently, of the Queen’s face, which resembles the Exchange artist’s interpretation. In simple words a good resemblance of Elizabeth the1st!
If the Exchange picture was sent to Scotland, it’s likely that Hilliard never saw the picture at all; maybe he never met that artist and never viewed a picture of anything by him or her. Another conclusion I came to, is that both Phoenix Portraits are doubles of her. I don’t mean in their likeness, but the images themselves. Put them besides one another, and you have a mirror image; though not perfect. For one has a glove, the other a rose, plus smaller details. Nonetheless the pose is a mirrored. These images may link into the Sonnets, which use a double person. The rose is used in them also; I can but mention that William Shakespeare’s father was a glove maker too!
How many Queens!This is not the only time we see multiple imagery of the same person, especially Elizabeth. She crops up all over. Most art historians miss the fact that artists, like the rest of England, thought she was a goddess. So that when you see the recognisable image of the Queen and then she is followed, or in the company of other female deity, my advice to them, is to not simply assume she embodies the virtues these gods represent. No the best thing to do is assume they are (each one) Elizabeth, as much as the one everyone knows is her. Several paintings use this principal, such as The Succession of Henry VIII, evidently painted around 1580 to 1588,
because of Philip of Spain, being followed by the God Mars. This picture has recognisable goddess that may not always be the case. As in a picture by the artist Hans Eworth, where she is followed by what look like ladies in waiting, when they are really copies of Elizabeth, showing different aspects of her personality. This can get very confusing when individual portraits show the same thing, especially when they are split. This might account for the features of the Ditchley Portrait, which Roy Strong thinks were softened, on copies of it. In truth you have to seen them together, like in the two sides of a coin. This also fits in with the allegorical fashion they had. It reveals they were also fascinated with personality, which is pushed to extreme in some pictures. Hilliard’s pupil, Isaac Oliver, revels in it, in a miniature dated around 1590, which fooled Roy, once again, into thinking it was about marriage, Isaac duplicates the Queen 11 times! We might also be able to Shakespeare at least 3 times! The picture is divided into two, with stately figures to the left and happy people on the right. Near the middle the Queen (depicted in black) gives a passionate kiss to a very young man, presumably
the first meeting with Shakespeare. He wears a red jacket and the company livery of the actors was red, yet Isaac might have made a mistake for William might not have been connected to a company of players then. Still it gives the clue away. Hunters are seen as well, which ties in with William’s first meeting. The men may not all be the Bard, however, for at the left side the Queen is seen strolling with a blue jacketed man, with his arm around her waist. The two half’s of this miniature might also be showing the sad and happy sides of life.
Split manOliver uses the happy side and sad, in two separate miniature’s. In A Young Man Seated beneath a Tree, the melancholic symptom is demonstrated. His arms folded, his legs crossed at the ankles, which is the same posture people have when at the dentist, his face looking like it was raining, plus he was getting wet. Yet the sky is blue, the small flowers at his feet, in bloom. The background to this picture is a palace with geometric gardens. He’s of course the ‘sad dejected muse man’ or should that be the rejected by his muse man, because Oliver has painted the opposite of this man. In this other picture, the same man, dressed in classical costume, playing a lute is happy. He sits under a tree too, the sky though is cloudy, and also to tie it in to the other picture it has the same arched canopies. With the cloudy sky he shouldn't be happy, yet he is and loads of people are, in the background. The implication being that a happy man would make everyone else happy too. He’s in love; we don’t need to work this one out for the Latin word for ‘lover’ is floating above him. At his feet are musical instruments, games, books, plus anything associated with the pleasures of life.
Who he’s in love with is not shown, though it may just be life! I don’t think he’s Shakespeare, or somebody I could put a name to. Maybe he’s not meant to be anyone!
Strong’s wrongBefore dealing with Shakespeare and the other miniatures of the Queen, it’s only right to deal with the only large picture, from the end of her time, which shows the golden blond hair she had. Elizabeth in a Procession though attributed to Robert Peake the Elder; I can find not much to
back this view up. Many art historians have assumed two things: First that the Queen is being carried by her courtiers and second that it is something to do with a wedding. Roy Strong dismissed both ideas and for once he is quite correct. He believed that the poles holding the Queen’s chair were too flimsy to hold the weight. Thus the courtiers were carrying a canopy to keep the sun of the Queen. Two men in red push the Queen, who’s on a wheeled carriage. The ladies in waiting then follow behind the Queen. The white/silver dressed woman and man are the reason that some have thought that they are the wedding couple. But white didn’t become popular for weddings till much later.
While agreeing with Roy on some points, I don’t agree with him that Elizabeth didn’t look like that around 1595-1600. There’s is also the tell tale signs of paint decay in the picture and a close up on her face (apart from paint cracking) reveals that a crown can be made out, from a few trace dots of silver pearls or diamonds. Yet the frame and possibly a blue bonnet has gone completely leaving only a faint trace. The artist did however paint the wall of the building before adding the Queen’s head, at least.
Much of the blue in this picture has vanished. If you look at the sky, which can be seen only in the small area upper left, there’s hardly any blue at all. And since it’s a sunny day, from the use of the canopy, this can’t be right. The hands in the picture are very odd. The man next to the silver dressed man has a hand that looks like it’s been in a press! Also the leading man, at the far left, has a very deformed hand. Since he is reckoned to be Lord Howard, the Admiral of the fleet, we can rule this out as a physical problem. The ladies hands are not much better. There’s some similarity with Isaac Oliver, though I would have doubts about his reproduction of these hands. Perhaps it was somebody who worked under Oliver?
The problem over all is however what is the purpose of the procession? Even today most Royal walkabouts are connected to some opening or event. If you look at the courtier men they appear to be wearing garters. This is because they are mostly Garter Knights. As magnificent as the Queen appears, your eyes are drawn to the men’s legs almost proudly displaying their garters. Something ceremonial must be going off, because all have chains of office and carry swords, which are probably not for fighting with. As the Garter Knights ceremony still takes place to this day, this picture is clearly about it. The colours attached to each person thus signify something. The silver man may have been the most important figure in the Queen’s entourage. I think he has a look of Walsingham? Also the silver woman may be the chief of the ladies in waiting. Her importance can be added to as she has the most elaborate of the tiaras of all the women. She resembles Mary Fitton too! The dome headed man, in a sort of orange jacket and skirt; is quite possibly the key to the ceremony, as he stands out. Maybe he was awarded by them (for special service) or even created a Garter Knight.
I think you can reverse the notion that the Queen looked like some of the representations; which depict her as full of wrinkles and some kind of battered face, that even today we might think a woman should look in her sixties. Pictures like Marcus Gheeraerts impression of the Queen in 1595 and that tomb image that can be seen in Westminster Abbey are what Elizabeth wanted us to think she was like. No doubt some university types might squander paper and words, trying to explain why, but I think you can get the general idea from the sonnets chapter. These old woman icons, they are the false images, not the Rainbow picture or Hilliard’s miniatures. Evidence in portraiture can also be seen at Cecil’s house again. A ‘wrinkled face’ of the Queen can be seen to have been placed over a young looking one. Quite well done till you look carefully and see the face doesn’t match the body position, like a mask. In this case the mask of age, not youth! If you want to know what Elizabeth really looked like in her fifties and sixties then choose a Hilliard miniature picture!
It turns out the Nicholas Hilliard had further training in Europe, from we don’t know who. Nevertheless he comes back with a much better grasp of the technique. These miniatures were often placed in jewel cases. After all Nicholas was a jeweller. Where they have been kept closed a lot or not handle much, they maintain some of the more delicate colouring. It was a real bag of rummaged materials that he used to paint on, from playing cards, even using ear wax, for mixing paint... Yuck!
Nonetheless he was only allowed, by official command of the Queen, to paint her in “small compass only”. This meaning the small circles/ovals that he did. We might see that he was not the only one under strict control.
Hats off to ShakespeareNext we come to Shakespeare’s likeness in art. Apart from the depictions of William already mentioned in other chapters; such as the 1588 Man Clasping a Hand, or Isaac’s 27 Year Old Man, quite a few more pictures have been made of the poet/actor. Strangely Hilliard gives us a
clue in the Man Clasping a Hand picture and it’s not what you might think. The early theatres were open to the air and actors to keep the sun and rain off wore hats! To link with Shakespeare, John Audeley of Nottingham gets into a spot of bother with the authorities, being Catholic. He just so happens to be friends with the Bard’s father. He is friendly enough to pay more than £20 for him over the trouble. What is this Nottingham man’s trade? A hat maker! So that’s how you get a decent hat - shop him – and don’t pay the bill!
Many artists have cashed in on the man’s fame to produce types of paintings that do not even resemble those that others and I have credited as being Shakespeare. Some of these fanciful icons have him looking more like a Lord than an actor! Whilst there’s much information spread about, which I can prove wrong, about the years when William was famous, or at least had the opportunity to pose for artists and pay them! You can never be certain if they don’t match the only known drawing in the 1623 works. Allowing for the age difference, which I would put when
he was around 50 years old, when commissioned, of Martin Droeshout engraved image; those early pictures do fit in with it. Martin’s print was taken from a painting, though this is now in a terrible condition, maybe that was done for his fiftieth birthday! Yet again the painting may have been taken from Martin’s print! Another miniature by Isaac Oliver, that I do not believe has ever been credited as being William, as it’s always seems to be qualified as unknown in art books, has the same look of both of the above. The only real differences between these two and Oliver’s is that he gives him slightly more hair on his head and the arched shaped ruff has lace around it. The lace may have been present on the ruff Shakespeare wore when he sat for the other painting and its copy. However the artist may not have felt like doing that extra detail. Yet there’s detail on the Droeshout drawing which does match the detail on its painted original. I think that this is artistic licence on the part, because the jacket that Will wears is also like Oliver’s depiction, just better decorated, as is the ruff.
The National Portrait Gallery’s picture, which they attribute to fellow actor John Taylor, I am pleased to say also matches the aforementioned paintings. A previous historian did assign their picture to Ben Jonson. I’m not sure if I would agree with that, knowing Ben’s boastful nature. If Jonson had painted his picture, then why did he not insist that his work went aside his dedication in the 1623 book? Few I think would exemplify Ben Jonson as “modest”! However I am concerned that the quality of these large scale images is much reduced and they are either copies of grander paintings, or people trying to produce depictions of William long after his death. With of course the emphasis on keeping him humble. When in reality he could easily afford a top class painter.
I do however consider the Gerard Soest painting to be a fare likeness, of all the larger scale portraits. Its main problem for many, which it is why it’s not considered authentic enough, is that it was put on to canvas in 1656! That aside for the moment, it still fits the pattern, which can be seen, for all the depictions of the man himself. In that Shakespeare seems to have had a high forehead from being young. His hair starts out light and goes dark with age. Also it recedes, leaving him with a monk “Friar Tuck” hairstyle! As Soest image matches this pattern, I can confidently put Shakespeare’s age at around 40, maybe at the time of Elizabeth’s death. Therefore Soest was backdating his rendering by near on 53 years! Some people even think it was painted in 1723. Quite near impossible, I would have thought, as the artist died in 1681. So he must have seen some picture, painted at that time, perhaps even a faded or damaged miniature. Therefore Gerard Soest rescued Shakespeare’s image for all of us. However it may date to 1660 for the restoration of the monarchy and a boost for the theatre world. Then in 2007 the original turned up. The eyes were much larger and other features had changed. Yet this was probably due to Soest thinking they were incorrectly painted in the first place.
The funniest thing is that William did have the auburn hair that Elizabeth craved. So no wonder her portraits have this feature. One last picture can’t be William Shakespeare because it has the wrong hair colour. The Grafton Portrait does show a man aged Shakespeare’s age in 1588, however he has black hair and this rules him out, unless he was making a reference to the black hair of the Sonnets. I wouldn’t go down that road, for the reason it was shown to be a ‘cheap’ version. The academic circle may like this but real William could easily afford a Hilliard miniature, full of symbolic meanings by 1588. Hey guess what there is one!
All of these images portray William Shakespeare as wearing the black and white style of a certain religion, but why would the man become more religious than others and what was causing him to loose his good looks?