Original Bard portrait unveiled
The portrait is believed to have been painted in 1610
A portrait of William Shakespeare thought to be the only picture made of the playwright during his lifetime has been unveiled in London.
It is believed the artwork dates back to 1610, six years before Shakespeare's death at the age of 52.
The newly-authenticated picture was inherited by art restorer Alec Cobbe.
The portrait will go on show at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon from 23 April, the author's birthday.
The painting has been in the Cobbe family for centuries, through its maritial link to Shakespeare's only literary patron, Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton.
'Very fine painting'
Mr Cobbe realised the significance of the painting after visiting an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery where he saw a portrait that had until 70 years ago been accepted as a life portrait of Shakespeare.
He immediately realised that it was a copy of the painting in his family collection.
Professor Stanley Wells, chairman of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, said: "The identification of this portrait marks a major development in the history of Shakespearean portraiture. This new portrait is a very fine painting."
There has long been controversy over the accuracy of some of the portraits claimed as likenesses of Shakespeare.
Experts generally agree the most accurate depictions are a bust of the playwright originally put up in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon and an engraving made for the title page of the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays.
Both are thought likely to be accurate as they were created or commissioned shortly after his death in 1616 by people who had actually met him.
William Shakespeare died in pain of a rare form of cancer that deformed his left eye, according to a German academic who says she has discovered the disease in four genuine portraits of the world's most famous playwright.
As London's National Portrait Gallery prepares to reveal in a show that only one out of six portraits of the Bard may be his exact likeness, Professor Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel, from the University of Mainz, provides forensic evidence of at least four contemporary portraits of Shakespeare.
Hammerschmidt-Hummel, who will publish in April the results of her 10-year research in the book The True Face of William Shakespeare, used forensic imaging technologies to examine nine images believed to portray the playwright.
These technologies included the trick image differentiation technique, photogrammetry, computer montages and laser scanning.
Four of these portraits shared 17 identical features.
"The Chandos and Flower portrait, the Davenant bust and the Darmstadt death mask, all showed one and the same man: William Shakespeare. They depict his features in such precise detail and so true to life that they could only have been produced by an artist for whom the poet sat personally," says Hammerschmidt-Hummel.
The portraits show a growth on the upper left eyelid and a protuberance in the nasal corner, which seems to represent three different stages of a disease.
"At Shakespeare's time, the artists depicted their sitters realistically and accurately, absolutely true to life, including all visible signs of disease," Hammerschmidt-Hummel says.
A team of doctors analysed the paintings and concluded that Shakespeare, who died aged 52 in 1616, most likely suffered from a rare form of cancer.
According to ophthalmologist Dr Walter Lerche, the playwright suffered from a cancer of the tear duct known as Mikulicz's syndrome.
A protuberance in the nasal corner of the left eye was interpreted as a small caruncular tumour.
Dermatologist Dr Jost Metz diagnosed "a chronic, annular skin sarcoidosis", while the yellowish spots on the lower lip of the Flower portrait were interpreted as an inflammation of the oral mucous membrane indicating a debilitating systemic illness.
"Shakespeare must have been in quite considerable pain. The deformation of the left eye was no doubt particularly distressing. It can also be assumed that the trilobate protuberance in the nasal corner of the left eye, causing a marked deviation of the eyelid margin, was experienced as a large and painful obstruction," Hammerschmidt-Hummel says.
Her findings have stirred a controversy in England.
The National Portrait Gallery, which conducted a four-year study of possible surviving portraits for the exhibition Searching for Shakespeare, stresses that "today we have no certain lifetime portrait of England's most famous poet and playwright".
Hammerschmidt-Hummel's conclusion is based on a "fundamental misunderstanding" since "portraits are not, and can never be forensic evidence of likeness", the gallery says.
Most experts, including those at the National Portrait Gallery, agree that only the Chandos painting may be a likely Shakespeare portrait.
The terracotta Davenant bust, which has been standing for 150 years in the London gentleman's Garrick Club, has long believed to be work of the 18th century French sculptor Roubiliac.
She learned that Clift found the bust in 1834 near a theatre that was previously owned by Sir William Davenant, Shakespeare's godson. Davenant owned many Shakespeare mementos, including the Chandos painting.
It's a fake
The most controversial seems to be the Flower portrait, which the National Portrait Gallery dismissed as a fake as it featured a pigment not in use until around 1818.
Hammerschmidt-Hummel contends that the painting is nothing more than a copy of the portrait she examined 10 years ago. The original Flowers had evidence of swelling around the eye and forehead, while the one about to go on display at the gallery does not have these features, she says.
The Darmstadt death mask, so-called because it resides in Darmstadt Castle in Germany, has been long dismissed as a 19th century fake.
But according to Hammerschmidt-Hummel, the features, and most of all the impression of a swelling above the left-eye, make it certain that it was taken shortly after Shakespeare's death.
"A 3D technique of photogrammetry made visible craters of the swelling. This was really stunning evidence," Hammerschmidt-Hummel says.