Happy Birthday Shakespeare!
A group of students visited Longleat House in April to see the new exhibition ‘Shakespeare 400th Anniversary – Still Searching for Shakespeare’
A portrait of Shakespeare which is believed to be among the most accurate representations of the great playwright has gone on public display for the first time at Longleat.
The virtually unknown likeness of the bard was created in 1704, and is documented as deriving directly from the ‘Chandos Shakespeare’ - the one surviving portrait painted during the poet’s lifetime.
What makes the portrait so important is that, unlike the Chandos Shakespeare, which is now hanging in the National Portrait Gallery collection, the Longleat version preserves the original appearance of the famous work as it was before it underwent over-zealous cleaning and numerous ‘restorations’.
“The version on display here at Longleat has not been damaged, restored or over-painted in the same way the Chandos original has,” said Longleat’s curator of historic collections, Dr Kate Harris.
“So even though it is a copy of that life portrait done around 100 years later it is thought to be the only version to most clearly depict that original painting,” she added.
Alongside the portrait, the exhibition also brings to public attention for the first time the only known contemporary drawing of a Shakespeare play in performance.
The sketch by Henry Peacham is of Shakespeare’s first tragedy, Titus Andronicus, and is thought to be based on a production at the famous Rose Theatre in early 1594.
The Peacham Drawing arrived at Longleat in 1787 as part of an inheritance which included a collection of papers and autographs put together by the Earl of Oxford.
“It is thought to have been drawn by Peacham when he was about 17 and is the only contemporary drawing of a Shakespeare play in performance. It is still used as a key to understanding things like costume in the theatre at the time.”
The new exhibition also features Longleat’s copy of the First Folio, the first collected works of Shakespeare published in 1623, and one of only four surviving copies remaining in private hands.
‘Shakespeare 400th Anniversary – Still Searching for Shakespeare’ is on display at Longleat House until 31st October 2016.