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Shakspere and Art. HE GENIUS of SHAKSPERE is a marvel to the many,
while the thoughtful recall his wisdom and revere his memory. It is proposed to embody this admiration of his countrymen in a tangible artistic memorial. His sculptured form will thus become history cut in stone, telling future ages of the spirit and intelligence of the people at the Ter-centenary of his birthday. A monument to the memory of Shakspere will confer honour on the nation, rather than extend the fame of the bard. But a statue that gives no truthful indication of the “form and stature" of the poet as he lived, would prove a source of disappointment and indifference in the future.
A faithful copy of the head of a man of genius is his most reliable biography,—indicating as it does, in bold and graphic outlines, the character the Creator hath impressed upon the noble yet delicate instrument of thought-the brain. It tells in a few brief lines the story of his life, his racial parentage, his emotional proclivities, and the bias of his mental powers.
Hence, portraiture affords universal gratification, and physiognomy becomes a captivating study; while both acquire increased interest and greater practical utility, when the relations between organisation and character are fully understood. Which, therefore, among the many portraits of Shakspere, is the genuine likeness of the bard, is a subject of great interest, worthy of investigation, and, if possible, of discovery.
The question respecting the genuineness of the portraits of Shakspere as likenesses, has long remained vague and unsatisfactory. The pedigrees of several have been given, but no satisfactory examination of the portraits has hitherto been published ; and as the only way to arrive at a sound conclusion was by comparing them with each other, in their facial and cranial contour, in accordance with established principles, an exhibition of Shakspere's Portraits and pictures, to be held in the town of Stratford during the Ter-centenary Festival of the poet's birthday, was advocated in the local press.* The suggestion was approved, and a number of portraits and pictures were lent by various noblemen and gentlemen for the purpose :
the * By the writer, in the “Stratford Herald,” June 11 and 22, 1863.
whole were very judiciously arranged under the superintendence of Mr. Hogarth, of the Haymarket; and constituted one of the most interesting features of the festival at Stratford-on-Avon. This collection of Shakspere portraits, which had never before been exhibited together, was both unique and suggestive,-leading to results of higher importance than could possibly be anticipated; for careful and repeated examinations and comparisons of the portraits with the bust and mask taken after death, led to the conclusion that a genuine portrait of Shakspere exists; and moreover, that several of the portraits have emanated from one characteristic source.
Some of the best authenticated portraits are the productions of inferior artists; others are disputed ; while several are frauds and impositions. It is therefore desirable to ascertain, as far as practicable, which portrait approximates the nearest to the “counterpart presentment" of the poet ; and the light of modern science will enable us to arrive at a nearer point of truth and exactness than has hitherto been possible.
It is only within the present century that the discovery has been made-a discovery which modern artists only could apply—that special characteristics are connected with particular portions of the head, and that mental greatness mainly depends on the size, form, and condition or quality of the brain. There is also a correspondence between the thorax and the abdomen, and the brain. We seldom find that a large anterior lobe and narrow base of the brain are combined with large lungs and a large abdomen ; and we as rarely see that a large base and small anterior lobe are combined with small lungs and a small abdomen. There is, therefore, a language, so to speak, pervading the whole corporeal frame of man, which bears a relation to the size, form, and condition of the brain ; while every part of the visible surface expresses the quality as well as the quantity of the mental power that pervades and animates it. Biographic portraiture, therefore, requires a knowledge of anatomy, physiology, phrenology, and ethnic physiognomy, as well as of art to perceive, delineate, and preserve the true, distinct, racial, and special type ; and also to estimate the relationship in form between the body, the brain, and the moral and mental character and capability of a man of mark or talent.
Genius, by its intuitions, as in Da Vinci, Raphael, and Michael Angelo, often realises the truth at once, in its creations ; while the ordinary mind fails to attain it but by slow and oft-repeated efforts.
A sculptor may mould a face, or turn a joint ; the painter may tint a lip, or foreshorten a limb, and yet fail to delineate the head accurately, because indifferent to the law which shows that the nervous system reigns supreme over physical development, and determines the
elements of shape, contour, and physiognomy, as well as indicates special idiosyncracies of character and capacity. If a Bacchus requires one style of muscular development, Hercules another, and Diana a third, so there is one form of head for the poet, another for the brutal criminal, and a different one for the clown. It is the imperfection in the brain that leaves the idiot a driveller; it is its form and quality that exalts the poet in his temple, and raises the throne of the patriot in the hearts of the people. Men are eloquent on the bones of extinct animals,
but silent on the convolutions of the brain, and their resulting forms on the head ; and yet the forehead of the highly-gifted musician differs from that of the mathematician ; that of the portrait-painter must vary from that of the linguist, engineer, and the landscape artist; while men like Michael Angelo, Da Vinci, Shakspere, and Goëthe, possessing universality of power, must require well-balanced brains, and finely-organised nervous constitutions, to accomplish their mission.
Thus the interest awakened by a portrait, bust, or statue of Shakspere, is in proportion to the probable exactness of the artist in making the portraits special, biographic, and individually true as a likeness of the bard. But there was no painter of eminence in England at the commencement of the 17th century, for repeated efforts were made by Henry, Prince of Wales, through Sir Edward Conway, to induce " the painter of Delft” to visit England, but he failed: although £40 were offered to this artist to meet the expenses of the voyage, he could not be induced to leave his Dutch patrons, or undertake the journey, in 1611, It is reasonable to conclude, therefore, that no artist of eminence was at that time in England, to paint a portrait of Shakspere from life. Portrait painting was a luxury enjoyed only by the nobility or the very wealthy. The arri
ral of Jansen in 1618 extended the taste and increased the 'pportunity for the possession of portraits among those of he class to which Ben Jonson belonged ; and we find a ikeness of him by Jansen about this period. It is quite vossible, too, that he saw and copied a cast of Shakspere yhile painting his portrait. Jansen was followed by lytens, Oliver, and others, till the arrival of Rubens and Tandyke. In the interval Shakspere's popularity had inreased and his portraits multiplied. There are now likelesses by the modellers, the engravers, the sculptors, and he painters. How the mere artist would be likely to treat he portrait of the popular idol, we may learn from what Gainsborough was inclined to do, as stated by himself in nis letter to David Garrick, on the subject of a portrait of the poet, when he says :
"'Shakespeare shall come forth forthwith,' as the lawyer says. Damn the original picture of him, with your leave; for I think a stupider face I never beheld, except D-k's.
"I intend, with your approbation, my dear friend, to take the form from his pictures and statues, just enough to preserve his likeness past the doubt of all blockheads at first sight, and fupply a foul from his works : it is impossible that such a mind and ray of heaven could shine with such a face and pair of eyes as that picture has.”
This blunt yet characteristic condemnation of the popular portraits of Shakspere, by one of our best English portrait painters, together with the evidence presented by the portraits themselves, lead to the conclusion that most of them are idealised creations of the painter, from very slight materials as a foundation for a likeness. To arrive at a satisfactory approximation to the truth, we must apply higher and severer criteria than art, and adopt the more certain tests of science and cerebral physiology, as far as practicable, in examining the likenesses of the poet. The collection of thirty different portraits of Shakspere, and their juxta-position on the walls of the Town Hall, afforded a good opportunity for judging of the great variety of forms various artists have given to the head of the bard, when compelled, without a model, to
“Weave their vagaries around it." It is this great difference in the various portraits-in the essential and distinguishing elements of the poet and the man-which renders a selection of the possible and the
real from the imaginary and the false, absolutely necessary to eliminate the truth in relation to the portraiture of the poet.
The exhibition was a severe ordeal to the popular favourites. One or two of the portraits are monstrous exaggerations ; others are delineated, as Shakspere says, with foreheads "villainously, low;" while in some pictures the expression in the face is in contradiction to the size and form of the brain, and we must turn them to the wall of oblivion, as unworthy of consideration.
I shall confine myself, therefore, to the examination of those only which have the best claims to authenticity and general approval, and those are : 1. The BUST ON THE MONUMENT near the tomb of
Shakspere, in the Chancel of the Church at Stratford.
on-Avon. 2. The ENGRAVED PORTRAIT, by MARTIN DROESHOUT,
and first published with the folio edition of Shakspere's
works, in 1623. 3. The STRATFORD PORTRAIT, at the birthplace. [lery). 4. The CHANDOS PORTRAIT (at the National Portrait Gal. 5. The JANSEN PORTRAITS (J. Staunton, Esq. and others). 6. The FELTON HEAD (at the birthplace); 7. The LUMLEY LIKENESS (at Mrs. Rippon's, N. Shields), 8. The ZETLAND PORTRAIT (the Countess of Zetland's), 9. The WARWICK PORTRAIT (Warwick Castle): and lastly, 10. The Cast, said to be from the face and forehead of
Shakspere after death, and lent from the British
The Stratford Lust. The Bust in the Stratford Church first claims our attention, because it possesses the greatest authenticity as & monumental effigy of the poet, and was erected within a few years after his death, under the superintendence or direction of the poet's family-Dr. and Mrs. Hall.
The bust is the size of life, cut out of a single block of soft stone. The hands are resting on a cushion, with a pen, as if in the act of writing. The figure, represented in The dress of the period, presents a stout, heavy appearance, and is executed without much artistic taste or skill. As a