Cobbe Portrait

The Cobbe portrait is an early Jacobean panel painting of a gentleman which has been argued to be a life portrait of William Shakespeare. It is displayed at Hatchlands Park in Surrey, a National Trust property, and the portrait is so-called because of its historical ownership by Archbishop Charles Cobbe (1686-1765). There are numerous early copies of the painting, most of which were once identified as Shakespeare. The Cobbe original was only identified in the collection of the Anglo-Irish Cobbe family in 2006, and had until then been completely unknown to the world. Evidence uncovered by researchers at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust led to the claim, presented in March 2009, that the portrait is of William Shakespeare and painted from life. The portrait has been the centrepiece of two dedicated exhibitions: Shakespeare Found: a Life Portrait at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford-upon-Avon, from April–October 2009 and The Changing Face of William Shakespeare at the Morgan Library and Museum, New York, from February–May 2011. Support for the identification is drawn from several strands of evidence:

1) The portrait descended in the Cobbe family together with a portrait of Shakespeare's patron, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton - the person most likely to have commissioned a portrait of Shakespeare - and were inherited by Archbishop Cobbe through his cousin's wife, Southampton's great-granddaughter, who inherited Wriothesley heirlooms.

2) At least five early copies of the Cobbe portrait have long traditions as representing Shakespeare: in the case of one of them, the 'Janssen' portrait in the Folger Shakespeare Library (Washington DC), the tradition is claimed to date to within living memory of Shakespeare. This is one of the longest Shakespeare traditions attaching to any oil portrait. The Janssen portrait was long considered to be a portrait of Shakespeare, largely because the painting was altered to make it look like him. Furthermore, the existence of so many early copies indicates that the sitter was a man of fame.

3) The Cobbe portrait is inscribed with the words 'Principum amicitias!', meaning 'the alliances of princes!', a quotation from Horace in an ode addressed to a man who was, among other things, a playwright (see below).

4) The Cobbe portrait bears a compositional similarity with the Droeshout engraving published in the First Folio of 1623, and may have been the source for it.

5) Scientific examination has shown that the portrait is painted on a panel of English oak sometime after 1595; the form of the collar suggests a painting date of around 1610.

Read more about Cobbe PortraitSupport and Criticism, History, Controversy, Latin Text, Cobbe Portrait of Southampton, See Also

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