The Portrait William Shakespeare

• This is the account of the production of a portrait of William Shakespeare using an anatomical drawing of his skull, the Chandos portrait and Droeshout etching, and thereby forensically constructing a portrait of the man himself.

Shakespeare's headstone reads:

'Good friend for Jesus sake forbear To dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones and cursed be he that moves my bones.'

First of all we shall look at what other background material exists.

Martin Droeshout's engraving of Shakespeare. From a copy of the First Folio.

Martin Droeshout's engraving of Shakespeare. From a copy of the First Folio.

Martin Droeshout's engraving of Shakespeare reversed.

The portrait above is the so called "Chandos Portrait" of Shakespeare

A phrenological drawing of Shakespeare's skull dated 1807 and thought to be attributed to the French natural scientist Georges Curvier when a follower of the Viennese physician and phrenologist Franz-Joseph Gall.

Though the original skull, from whence the drawing was taken, is yet undiscovered it is thought to part of the collection taken to America by another follower of Gall, Johann Kaspar Spurzheim. There is some evidence that an infamous 'resurrection man' (transported to New Holland) was responsible for obtaining the skull for the business man and amateur natural scientist James Deville who either took it, or had it sent, to Paris and the 'Institut de France' where it finally came into the posession of Spurzheim.

Although there is some evidence that it was part of the posessions of Napolean Bonaparte's when finally exiled and hence made it's way to Chile and then the USA this cannot be substantiated.

Below is a 'proof' in the form of a series of comparisons between the historical drawings and the skull. Please note the congurence of the eyes, nose and upper teeth with the skull.

ORIGINAL DRAWING OVERLAYED WITH DROESHOUT ENGRAVING

Notes on method of painting:

• The canvas was first primed and then a imprimatura (thin paint coat)of a dull olive green was applied.

• When dry a charcoal sketch was made.

• A grey painting using raw umber was applied to define the darks and lights. Some blue was added into the shadows to give added coolness and depth.

• A pallet of light red, yellow ochre and cobalt blue used to work the painting up.

• Scumbles of opaque naples yellow and tiny amounts of cadmium and vermillion were used to define the highlights. Much blending with small hogshair brushes gave the smooth finish.

• Some of the background mix was applied to define small underskin features such as veins and other imperfections.

• A background of the same pallet was applied as the painting progressed until a 'distance' view was necessary and then the small landscape was formed, also using the same pallet.

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