​​​is this william shakespeare​​​​ ?

​portraits of shakespeare

Is This William Shakespeare © 2013

There were of course many other 'painters' in the period like De Critz and others. Frederico Zuccari / Zuccaro (& various spelling) also worked at the Court of Elizabeth, but some time before Shakespeare was around. The portrait above by him was believed to be Shakespeare, but this has lately been ruled out due to timing. Many portraits were (like Gheeraerts) miss-attributed to him in years passed. The Wadlow has the Name 'Zuchero' on verso, but we believe this to be a miss-attribution!

Does it matter what William Shakespeare looked like & which paintings of him are really him?

The truth is, William Shakespeare is remembered, loved and celebrated by millions, some four hundred years after his death, for his work. How he looked is of little importance to those who love his works. However, it would be a bonus to know how he looked, after all, we all have an image in our minds. So,with Shakespeare, which painting can we be 100% sure is The Bard? None, is the simple answer, even the national Portrait Galleries No 1 (and first exhibit) The Chandos is not for definite Shakespeare. As Tarnya Cooper (curator) wrote, in ‘Searching for Shakespeare’ page 54  “No other painting has had such a long history as a reputed portrait of Shakespeare. While there is much evidence to support this claim-such as the early history and provenance of the picture and the development of author portraiture inthis period-there is no conclusive proof of the identity of the sitter. The identification of a portrait of this date without an inscription or coat of arms is always complicated, and without an authenticated lifetime portrait of Shakespeare or further documentary evidence, the claim that the Chandos portrait represents Shakespeare is likely to remain unproven.”  In the ‘slide show’ to the right are a few ‘contenders’ detailed information can be found on The internet about all of these, here are brief details about some;

The Droeshout: ​As mentioned, there are no confirmed paintings of Shakespeare, however we do have the Droeshout engraving. An engraving by Martin Droeshout the younger, commissioned and accepted by John Heminges & Henry Condell for the front cover of the First Folio. Ben Johnson commented that it was a true image of Shakespeare & as it is very likely that it would have been seen by Shakespeare’s family and commissioned by his friends / colleagues it is universally accepted as the only image of Shakespeare without question.The problems with the Droeshout are apparent, the engraver would have been working from a “model” as he would not have known Shakespeare personally, we can assume if he was working from a portrait of a younger Shakespeare that there would have been an element of “artistic license”, in that he would have had the “older” Shakespeare described to him.The engravers skill has been questioned by many as there are oddities, the collar is not a recognised design and is likely to have been simplified as the intricate lace work of lace collars would have been extremely difficult and the engraver may have not had the skill or the time to perform such work. But for all the questions, this is the main image used when comparing images of Shakespeare, indeed the Cobbe investigation focuses heavily on such comparisons. As a foot note & maybe of relevance to our investigation;  From Tarnya Cooper’s Searching for Shakespeare, page 48, referring to the Droeshout engraving;
It is not clear what the original source of the engraving was, but the engraver must have based his likeness on an existing lifetime portrait, now lost. It has been suggested that the engraver copied an existing miniature, but there is no specific evidence to support this. It is equally possible that the source of the Droeshout engraving was a small-scale panel or canvas painting, of which the probable portrait of Richard Burbage (1568-1619) is a good example.
The historian Mary Edmond has proposed that the model for the Droeshout engraving was the 1595 portrait by Marcus Gheeraerts the younger that antiquarian George Vertue mentioned in his notebook of 1719.

The Chandos: ​The Chandos Portrait of Shakespeare is the most recognised and well known and generally accepted portrait of Shakespeare. It was the first portrait owned by the National Portrait Gallery and has been described as the British Mona Lisa. It is an extremely important portrait, not in wonderful condition, oil on Canvas circa 1600-1610. One main argument for the Chandos being Shakespeare is the fact that it was once owned by William Davenant, Shakespeare's Godson, some believe his actual son!

The Cobbe: The 'discovery' by Alec Cobbe that he had been in ownership of a portrait (some believe to be) of Shakespeare came about after he visited the NPG exhibition “searching for Shakespeare” He suspected that a portrait he previously believed to be Raleigh may in fact be Shakespeare. The portrait was 'revealed' in 2009 with much press coverage. The portrait was  taken seriously as Stanley Wells of the Shakespeare Birth Place Trust gave his backing to the portrait as a life portrait of Shakespeare. In 'Shakespeare Found a life portrait' there is much about evidence supporting this. The Cobbe family had links with Shakespeare’s patron the earl of Southampton & they believe that the earl commissioned the portrait. They also suggest that the Cobbe could be The 'model' for its sister portraits of which there are known to be a couple. In 'Shakespeare Found', it appears to be suggested that the Cobbe was the “model” for the Droeshout . Some experts dispute that the Cobbe is Shakespeare, & suggest it is Thomas Overbury. Some argue it is 'too grandly' dressed; an argument that Stanley Wells disputes. I agree with Mr Wells & suspect The Cobbe is Shakespeare, I also believe that if The Cobbe had been 'discovered in a more modest family home & did not have the backing of Stanley Wells, that it would be unlikely to now be recognised as a portrait of Shakespeare!

The Sanders: This could be the most heavily researched portrait of them all, with the owner having spent many years & much money. It has been traced back to Shakespeare, with the owners showing that a distant family member was (I believe) in Shakespeare's acting troupe! It is suggested that this family member painted the portrait. But the truth is, even if this is so, that he could have painted any other member of the troupe! And so, even with all this history we are still non the wiser!

The Grafton: Portrait dated '1588' with age of sitter '24' corresponding with Shakespeare.

Details below taken from 'The Grafton Portrait of Shakespeare' by Thomas Kay.

On Feb 18th 1907 there appeared in the Manchester Guardian a photo described as "the supposed portrait of Shakespeare, found in a village inn near Darlington. Thomas Kay tracked it down, purchased it and wrote about it in the above mentioned book. He died in 1914 & bequeathed it to the John Rylands Library where it is to this day.

The Grafton, appears to have fallen out of favour and is ignored by many, but we believe it should still be considered as Shakespeare. It compares favourably with the Droeshout & The Wadlow, the nose is different, but Mr Kay went to great pains to explain this in his book.      


If The Wadlow Portrait is William Shakespeare, it would follow that the Painter would have had to know or be associated with him;

​It is possible, that we may never confirm who Painted The Wadlow, however the writing covered on The Collar may be a monogram, if so, could it be Hilliard or Oliver? The fine detail of the Lace, The earring and the face could indicate either of them and they did also paint larger portraits. Or,it may be possible that the collar was added later and the painter just marked that part as his work. 

My first thought was Gheeraerts, he was known to be the first painter to paint his subject with a smile, previously not done, our portrait has a slight smile or smirk. Gheeraerts was of particular interest to me, as George Vertue, in his notebook of 1719 mentioned that he had seen (along with the Chandos) a portrait of Shakespeare dated 1595 which he attributed to M Garrard (Gheeraerts), in the collection of Mr Keck of temple. THIS PORTRAIT IS NOW LOST.

​I asked opinions of the experts (leading experts on Gheeaerts and portraits of the period) but they thought it unlikely to be Gheeraerts as the style was 'English'. Three independently commented the style was similar to those thought to be by William Segar, another suggested Robert Peake.

William Segar has been attributed to work that has also been attributed to Nicholas Hilliard & so we can & are working at present on the assumption (as per experts opinion) that The Wadlow Portrait may have been painted by Segar or Peake but at this stage none can be ruled out. We are investigating & have reason to believe that it is possible that The Wadlow Portrait may possibly be the Lost portrait referred to by George Vertue & his attribution to Gheeaerts may have been incorrect. For more details on Segar's connections with Shakespeare & Vertue's notes about The Lost Portrait, please see our page 'Why we believe this is Shakespeare'.


Artist's who may have painted a Portrait of William Shakespeare. 

    Portraits of Shakespeare

Portraits from the period were seldom signed, some artist added their monogram, such as Nicholas Hilliard & Isaac Oliver. Some 'hid' or incorporated these into designs in the costume or such places or around the edges . Many portraits of the period are attributed to 'unknown artist'. Respected artists,or 'painters' who would have been likely to paint Shakespeare, if he did have his portrait painted, would likely have been 'court' painters or at the least London based. These may (amongst others),have been Marcus Gheeraerts The Younger, Nicholas Hilliard, Isaac Oliver, William Segar, Robert Peake. 

It would be fair to say that in the 17th & 18th Century many works were miss-attributed and attribution remains unclear on many portraits today. An example of this is the 'Ermine' portrait of Elizabeth 1st that is attributed to Hilliard, but also Segar, even today

Nicholas Hilliard was an excellent painter, famous mainly for detailed miniatures. In the above slide show is 'A Man Clasping a Hand from a Cloud'. Dated 1588. This was believed by some to portray Shakespeare, but many scholars are sceptical. It is certainly not unreasonable to assume that Hilliard & Shakespeare would have been associated or moved in similar circles.

Isaac Oliver ​was, like Hilliard, best know for his excellent miniatures, he was Hilliard's pupil & became his equal and probably biggest competition.

Marcus Gheeraerts The Younger (Garrard) was a prolific painter of fine quality. His paintings are very well known, but as he was so prolific, I believe, in the 17th / 18th century he was attributed to many works, where there was uncertainty, it was a reasonably safe bet, based on odds!

William Segar (Seager) An interesting character whose 'day job' was a Herald for the College of Arms. He was also a fine portrait painter who has been attributed (along with Hilliard) for the Ermine painting of Elizabeth 1st . Segar (details below) would most certainly have been acquainted with Shakespeare, as would Peake and most likely the others listed above.

Who Painted The Wadlow?