That portrait was made famous by virtue of its place on the “First Folio” of the Bard’s work published in 1623. Scholars have long assumed the portrait was based on another painting, but were never sure which of the many portraits of Shakespeare may have dated closest to the author’s actual life (d. 1616).
Now one of the world’s leading Shakespeare scholars says he has uncovered the only known portrait of the author painted during his lifetime. Behold the real Shakespeare:
The painting above spent hundreds of years in the private collection of the Cobbe family — part of a collection donated to the family by the Third Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare’s only patron. The portrait was discovered when a member of the family saw similar ones at an exhibit about the search for Shakespeare’s real likeness:
There he saw a painting from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. that had been accepted until the late 1930s as a portrait from life. Looking it over, Cobbe felt certain that the Folger painting was a copy of the picture in his family collection. He asked Wells, an old friend, for his help in authenticating it. The two men arranged to have the Cobbe picture subjected to a battery of scientific tests — tree-ring dating to determine the age of the wood panel, X-ray examination at the Hamilton-Kerr Institute at Cambridge University and infrared reflectography. The tests produced persuasive evidence that the wood panel dated from around 1610 and that the Cobbe painting was the source for the one in the Folger and several others.
Wells is now sure of it. “I don’t think anyone who sees [the Cobbe portrait] would doubt this is the original,” he says. “It’s a much livelier painting, a much more alert face, a more intelligent and sympathetic face.”
The discovery inspired me to embark on my own quest for Shakespeare’s likeness. Sifting through the many priceless artifacts on display at my ancestral home at Thermos-upon-Rump, I stumbled across what I believe is the most accurate portrait of Zombie Shakespeare in existence:
Obviously it is impossible to judge the age of zombie portraits with much precision, but I think the likeness between my portrait and the Cobbe family portrait is self-evident, to say the least.