The Story of the British Museum, £8.99
Height: 190.000 mm
Width: 158.000 mm
PD 1852-6-12-441 (Hind 11)
Prints and Drawings
Martin Droeshout, William Shakespeare (1564-1616), an engraving
London, AD 1623
Title page of the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays
This signed and dated engraving by Martin Droeshout (1601- after 1639) is the frontispiece to the First Folio of Shakespeare's works, published in 1623. It is therefore one of the earliest portraits of Shakespeare. However, it seems unlikely that a young, freshly trained twenty-two year old captured a likeness with such apparent exactitude, of a man who died when he was only fifteen.
Droeshout may have read a record of Shakespeare's appearance in a verse decribing the poet, written by his close acquaintance Ben Jonson (1573-1637). Furthermore, the engraving was commissioned and approved by the compilers of the First Folio, John Hemmings and Henry Condell, both members of the King's Players, Shakespeare's acting company. The testimony or involvement of these three men is our best evidence for the print's value as a portrait. Despite the stiff and oddly-porportioned garments, the evidence points to the authenticity of this likeness of England's most celebrated playwright.
An engraving is not worked directly from life, but from a flat model, either a painting or a drawing. Droeshout must have been given a painting or drawing of Shakespeare as a young man, from which to engrave his plate. He is a competent, if undistinguished, craftsman working within a Flemish engraving tradition, derived from such engravers as Cornelis Cort (1533-1578).
The sculpted portrait bust over Shakespeare's tomb in the church of the Holy Trinity, Stratford fails to capture more than a general likeness but serves as a comparison to this engraving.
S. Schoenbaum, William Shakespeare, a documen (Oxford University Press, 1975)
A.M. Hind, Engraving in England in the si (Cambridge University Press, 1995)