We all know what William Shakespeare looked like: similar to a hippie uncle — balding, moustached, longish hair in back. How do we know? Mostly from an engraving by Martin Droeshout that appeared with the First Folio, the collection of Shakespeare’s work that was published in 1623, seven years after his death. That engraving is reproduced with almost every edition of Shakespeare that offers a picture of him.
…The painting has languished for centuries outside Dublin at Newbridge House, home base of the Cobbe family, where until recently no one suspected it might be a portrait of the Bard. Three years ago, Alec Cobbe, who had inherited much of the collection in the 1980s and placed it in trust, found himself at an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London called “Searching for Shakespeare.” There he saw a painting from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., that had been accepted until the late 1930s as a portrait of Shakespeare from life. Looking at it, Cobbe felt certain the Folger painting was a copy of the one in his family’s collection. He asked Wells, an old friend, for his help in authenticating it.
Follow up: Painting that was Sir Walter Raleigh then William Shakespeare is now Sir Thomas Overbury.
The “Cobbe” portrait is a splendid painting, whose sparkling colours have benefited from recent restoration. The italic inscription at the top of the picture, “Principum Amicitias!” – “the leagues of princes!” – appears too large in scale, as well as highly unusual in its deployment of an exclamation mark, and was perhaps added later. The “Shakespeare” claim does not rely crucially on the authenticity of this motto from Horace’s Odes, II.i, though the authors of the brochure remark that “it can be no coincidence that Horace’s words were addressed to a playwright”. It might have been helpful to examine the picture’s reverse for further inscriptions or telling marks, but at the preview the back was veiled with a brown paper screen. But the man portrayed, with his elaborate lace collar and gold embroidered doublet, appears far too grand and courtier-like to be Shakespeare. Though a leading “King’s Man”, Shakespeare was no nobleman, and even his status as “gentleman” was repeatedly called in question by some of the heralds. (As John Davies of Hereford records, both Shakespeare and Burbage hoped for further preferment from James I, but didn’t get it.) When players dressed above their rank offstage, it tended to get them into trouble. It is hard to believe that Shakespeare would have been rash enough to permit himself to be portrayed in such grand array. – timesonline