Published: June 13, 2006
“Searching for Shakespeare” at the Yale Center for British Art will be on view from June 23 to September 17.
In 1856 the first painting presented to the newly founded National Portrait Gallery in London was a work believed to portray William Shakespeare (1564-1616). What England’s most famous poet and playwright actually looked like has been a matter of interest for more than 200 years. Whether the picture, known as the Chandos portrait, accurately represents Shakespeare’s appearance is still a matter of debate, since no portrait of him is known to have been created during his lifetime.
“Searching for Shakespeare” brings together in this country for the first time six key painted portraits purporting to depict the playwright. It also includes two images that most likely do reflect his likeness, as they were commissioned by Shakespeare’s colleagues and family: a circa 1620 tomb effigy, erected only four years after his death; and a 1623 engraving that was praised by playwright Ben Jonson and fellow actors as being “a good likeness” of the bard.
“Searching for Shakespeare,” whose only US venue is at the Yale Center for British Art, also includes portraits of Shakespeare’s contemporaries and patrons, original documents relating to his life, first editions of his plays and poetry, rare Elizabethan theatrical costumes and a model of the Globe theater.
Organized by the National Portrait Gallery, London, inassociation with the Yale Center of British Art, “Searching forShakespeare” features nearly 150 objects that reveal Shakespeare ashis contemporaries knew him. The display includes an extraordinarybody of material dating from Shakespeare’s life and work. A numberof objects included in the exhibition have never before beendisplayed outside the United Kingdom, including Shakespeare’s willand the Chandos portrait.
“Searching for Shakespeare” also places the playwright in the broader context of the Elizabethan stage. The exhibition includes manuscript and printed materials related to Elizabethan performance and stagecraft. Early editions of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry will be on view, along with portraits of actors such as Richard Burbage; patrons, including the Earl of Southampton, to whom the poet dedicated “Venus and Adonis”; and other playwrights and poets, such as Jonson and Francis Bacon.
The Museum of London and the Victoria and Albert Museum are lending rare Elizabethan costumes, similar to those listed in Philip Henslowe’s manuscript inventory of theatrical costumes, circa 1582-94.
Other lending institutions include the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Museum of London, the Folger Shakespeare Library and a number of private collections. Nearly 50 works have been selected from collections at Yale, including printed works and manuscripts from the Yale Center for British Art, the Elizabethan Club and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
The exhibition will also present the results of the latest technical analysis and research on several of the contender portraits, casting new light on the search for Shakespeare’s authentic appearance.
The Yale Center for British Art is at 1080 Chapel Street, on the corner of High Street. For information, 203-432-2800 or www.yale.edu/ycba.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm