British magazine publishes 'new portrait of Shakespeare'

Tue May 19, 2015 12:38pm EDT
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LONDON (Reuters) - A British magazine has published an image of a figure that it says is the first and only known demonstrably authentic portrait of William Shakespeare made in his lifetime.

The picture, of a young, bearded man wearing a Roman-style laurel crown and holding an ear of sweetcorn , was identified by botanist and historian Mark Griffiths and will be published in Country Life on Wednesday.

Until now, the only accepted authentic likenesses of Shakespeare, in which he is depicted as bald, have been found in the First Folio of his works and his monument at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, both created posthumously.

Speaking on the magazine website, Griffiths said the discovery had come when he began researching the biography of pioneering botanist John Gerard (1545-1612), author of The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes, published in 1598.

"I began to look at the title page engravings ... and realised it was full of allusions to people who had been involved in the creation of the book and that four of the figures on the title page were in fact real persons," he said.

Three were Gerard himself, Flemish botanist Rembert Dodoens and Queen Elizabeth's Lord Treasurer, Lord Burghley, Griffiths said. The plants and motifs surrounding them in the engraving appeared to be elaborate Tudor references to the men themselves.

"And then there was a fourth figure who was dressed as a Roman and appeared to have something to do with poetry," he added.

Griffiths also discovered a cipher underneath the cover image containing clues about the fourth man.

"As I worked hard on this fourth figure, I realised it had to be William Shakespeare," he said.   Continued...

An image of playwright William Shakespeare from a first edition of "The Herball", a sixteenth century book on plants, is seen at an office in London, Britain May 19, 2015. The illustration is thought to show the first and only authentic portrait of Shakepseare according to British botanist and historian Mark Griffiths. REUTERS/Toby Melville