A fascinating literary detective story charting the surprising, true history of a recently discovered painting of Shakespeare held by the same family for 400 years -- adding new drama to the Bard's life.
When author Stephanie Nolen reported the discovery of the only portrait of William Shakespeare painted while he was alive, the announcement ignited furious controversy around the world.
Now, in this provocative biography of the portrait, she tells the riveting story of how a rare image of the young Bard at thirty-nine came to reside in the suburban home of a retired engineer, whose grandmother kept the family treasure under her bed, and how he embarked on authenticating it. The ultimate Antiques Roadshow dream, the portrait has been confirmed by six years of painstaking forensic studies to date from around 1600, and it has not been altered since.
Nolen's scoop about the rediscovery of what is reputedly the only portrait of the Bard painted in his lifetime appeared in 2001 on the front page of the Toronto Globe and Mail and sparked international debate within the Shakespeare industry. Almost a century ago, the "Sanders portrait" was brought to the attention of a prominent Shakespeare scholar and was officially and incorrectly dismissed as an altered portrait with a comparatively recent label affixed to it. Its current owner, Lloyd Sullivan, a retired engineer from Ontario, believed that he had inherited a genuine artifact from his grandmother (who kept it under her bed), and Nolen follows his decade-long attempt to confirm the family tradition that it was painted by Sullivan's ancestor, Elizabethan actor-artist John Sanders. Sullivan enlisted chemical and radiological experts to rule out retouching and even one of the world's leading specialists in dendrochronology (the science of dating wood by the tree rings) to situate the portrait's wood panel at the turn of the 17th century. Although Sullivan could never confirm the portrait's provenance, this book's alternating chapters ballast Nolen's account of his quixotic quest with eight essays by such scholarly heavy hitters as Stanley Wells (on the Bard's fame), Jonathan Bate (on the "anti-Stratford" author conspiracies) and Marjorie Garber (on how we read significance into Shakespearean iconography). Nolen refreshingly includes well-considered counterarguments. Encompassing the very debate that its story sparked, Shakespeare's Facecombines potentially dry art history with agreeable historical and journalistic investigation. 16 pages of color and b&w illus. not seen by PW.