The controversy surrounding the Cobbe portrait on display in Stratford-upon-Avon has prompted the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC to re-examine an important artifact in their collection: the Janssen portrait.
The first thing that strikes you about the Janssen portrait is its striking similarity to the Cobbe portrait, leading high-profile figures like Germaine Greer to challenge Stanley Well’s claim that the Cobbe portrait is the only-known portrait of Shakespeare painted during his lifetime.
Whereas the Cobbe portrait has been authenticated in the UK by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the virtually identical Janssen portrait in the US was discredited as a lifetime portrait in the 1940s because the original hairline had been over-painted in the eighteenth century.
Technical examinations of the Cobbe portrait have brought about enough fresh evidence to prompt the Folger Shakespeare Library to re-examine the Janssen portrait at the Smithsonian's Museum Conservation Institute.
Professor Wells told the Stratford Observer that, “should the Folger manage to accurately date the paint which was used to doctor the Janssen portrait, we could be much closer to understanding the evolution of the copies which came after the Cobbe, and how perhaps they may have been ‘altered’ not fraudulently but in order to depict Shakespeare in his later years.”
In my last blog post I said that new Shakespeare evidence rarely surfaces … I hope to eat my words!