Shakespeare PortraitHas a definitive likeness of Shakespeare been finally revealed in the portrait recently exhibited in Stratford by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust? If so, it overturns the traditional image of the Bard as a bald, chubby-faced man, and we need to start thinking of him as a youthful-looking, bushy-haired, and rather handsome chap.

But not everyone is convinced about the claims recently put forward for the portrait of the playwright owned by the Cobbe family which will soon be on display at the Shakespeare Centre.

Until recently, the most accurate depictions of Shakespeare were thought to be a bust of him in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, and an engraving printed on the title page of the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays. But now, a portrait owned by the Cobbe family, which was painted in 1610, six year's before the Bard's death is being claimed as a more accurate likeness. This was kept in Hatchlands, the Cobbe family house in Surrey, run by the National Trust, but will shortly be on display in the Shakespeare Centre next to the playwright's birthplace in Henley Street, Stratford-Upon-Avon.

At one time the Cobbe painting was thought to be of Sir Walter Raleigh, but now some experts, including the world's top expert on Shakespeare, Professor Stanley Wells, emeritus professor of Shakespeare studies at Birmingham University, believe that this could be the most accurate likeness, and was painted when Shakespeare was 46.

But another expert, Dr Tarnya Cooper, the sixteenth-century curator at the National Portrait Gallery in London has disputed the claim of Professor Wells. She believes the portrait is more likely to represent courtier Sir Thomas Ovebury (1581-1613) an English poet and essayist, as it resembles the accredited portrait of him that was bequeathed to the Bodleian Library in Oxford in 1740. Overbury was sent to the Tower of London by James I after refusing to become ambassador to the court of Michael of Russia. After a short period in the Tower he died of poisoning in 1613.

Key Portraits of Shakespeare

  • Bust in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-Upon-Avon (funerary monument erected before 1623)
  • Droeshout Engraving, appeared in the First Folio of 1623 - the first collection of Shakespeare's works, originally owned by Shakespeare's earliest patron, the third Earl of Southampton.
  • Portrait owned by the Cobbe family, painted in 1610, is now claimed to be the most accurate likeness.