He's a man in black with a full beard and a hoop earring. Or a clean-shaven, balding gent in a starched collar. Or a sensitive young man in a rich, red doublet.
For centuries, scholars have argued about the appearance of William Shakespeare. Britain's National Portrait Gallery announced Wednesday that a canvas by an obscure 17th-century artist is - most likely - the one true likeness of the playwright painted in his lifetime.
"I suspect this is the closest we're ever going to get to looking at the face of Shakespeare," said Tarnya Cooper, curator of the gallery's 16th-century collection.
She said there was strong evidence but no conclusive proof that the so-called Chandos portrait depicted Shakespeare.
The portrait - the first painting presented to the gallery when it opened in 1856 - forms the center of the "Searching for Shakespeare" exhibition, which opens Thursday.
Cooper said it was fitting that the institution's first acquisition was "our national poet - at least we hope it is."
Attributed to a little-known artist named John Taylor and dated by experts to between 1600 and 1610, the Chandos portrait provides an unusually bohemian image of Shakespeare. The Bard is shown dressed in black, sporting a gold hoop earring and with the strings on his white collar rakishly untied.
Earrings were worn then by "people of wit and ingenuity and creative ambition," Cooper said.
Similarities in style to portraits of other Elizabethan writers strengthened the argument that the painting is of Shakespeare, who died in 1616, she said.
There is no definitive portrait of Shakespeare painted in his lifetime. Only two likenesses, both posthumous, are widely accepted as authentic: a bust on his tomb in Stratford's Holy Trinity Church and an engraving used as a frontispiece to the Folio edition of his plays in 1623.
The National Portrait Gallery has spent a year and a half conducting tests on several alleged Shakespeare portraits, subjecting them to X-rays, ultraviolet examination, microphotography and pigment analysis.
The gallery concluded that one of the best-known images, the so-called Flower portrait owned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, was a fake, painted 200 years after the writer's death. The work, which shows the playwright gazing out at an angle and wearing a wide white collar, has been widely reproduced and is often printed on the covers of his plays.
Analysis uncovered chrome yellow paint from around 1814 embedded deeply in the work, and revealed that it was painted atop a 16th-century Italian Madonna and child.
"Somebody had found a piece of wood of the right age to make a pretty convincing portrait of Shakespeare," Cooper said. "It fooled historians for quite a long time."
Tests also ruled out the Grafton portrait, which shows a dark-haired, highbrowed young man in a rich scarlet jacket. Although gallery experts dated the painting to 1588 - when Shakespeare was 24 - they found no evidence that it depicted the playwright. Cooper said it was unlikely that Shakespeare, then a young actor, could have afforded the luxurious clothes worn by the sitter.
The exhibition brings together six of the best-known "Shakespeare" portraits with original documents from the playwright's life, including the bond of his marriage to Anne Hathaway, the deed to his house in Stratford and the will in which he left his wife his "second-best bed."
It's unlikely to end the argument about Shakespeare's image. A book by German academic Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel, to be published in April, names another contender - a bust owned by London's Garrick Club - as an authentic likeness.
Hammerschmidt-Hummel, an English professor at the University of Mainz, said that forensic analysis has revealed that the death mask, the bust and the Chandos and Flower portraits all "share 17 identical morphological features" and must be genuine. Hammerschmidt-Hummel also noted that growths on the eyes of the portraits' subjects indicate Shakespeare died of cancer.
Cooper said Hammerschmidt-Hummel's methodology was "fundamentally flawed."
"Portraiture is not forensic evidence," she said. "They are works of art."
Let me know, if you want to be put on the list.
Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel..........any kin to John Jacob Jingleheimer-Schmidt?..........
Maybe that's why he had the Earl of Gloucester get his eye gouged out in King Lear.
Shakespeare Died of Rare Cancer in 1616 at age 52...
Just Damn.....If he had not got cancer he would be 390 years old and still performing in Vegas!
CLAIMS that William Shakespeare may have died from cancer have been rubbished by the chairman of Shakespeare's Birthplace Trust.
A German literary expert has argued the Bard suffered from a tumour over his left eye in the years leading to his death in April 1616.
Professor Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel, from the University of Mainz, made the claim in a book after noticing four images of the Stratford-born writer showing a growth which increases in size in later pictures.
She asked forensic scientists from Germany's Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigation to look at works of art depicting Shakespeare.
But Stanley Wells, chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford, hit out at the scientist's claims. He said: "I think it is all a lot of nonsense. This woman has been seeking publicity for some time.
"The idea that you can diagnose somebody's mortal illness on what could be a speck of paint is ridiculous."
He added that two of the pieces of art from which the professor made her claim were produced hundreds of years after Shakespeare died.
No cause of the Bard's death has been recorded. Theories include typhoid, syphilis, a heavy drinking session - or even that he may have been murdered by his son-inlaw, John Hall.
Hildy's not only a kook but an over-dramatic one at that.
I have to agree with what the gallery said.