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The Chandos Portrait of William Shakespeare by John Taylor


The Chandos Portrait of William Shakespeare by John Taylor

“The Chandos Portrait of William Shakespeare” is believed to depict Shakespeare (1564–1616), because the engraved portrait of Shakespeare, on the title page of the first publication of his works, shows distinct similarities when compared to this painting. It has not been possible to determine with certainty who painted the portrait, nor whether it depicts Shakespeare.

William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the pre-eminent dramatist. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.

The relatively dusky features of this portrait have caused some commentators to argue that this portrait has a “un-English” look and that the beard and eyes make the subject look more European. The reality is that sixteenth-century Englishmen came in a variety of complexions, reflecting the mixed ancestry of Anglo-Saxon, Irish, British, Viking, Norman, Roman, French and many other ethnic sources.

This historic painting is named after the Dukes of Chandos, who formerly owned the picture. The portrait was given to the National Portrait Gallery, London on its foundation in 1856, and it is listed as the first work in its collection.

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) was an English poet, playwright and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language. His works, including collaborations, consist of about 39 plays,154 sonnets, two narrative poems, and a few other verses. His early plays were primarily comedies and histories including Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth and these have been translated into every major language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.

Born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare, at the age of 18, married Anne Hathaway, with whom he had three children. He began his career in London as an actor, writer, and part-owner of a playing company, he appears to have retired to Stratford, where he died. Few records of Shakespeare’s private life have survived allowing speculation about his appearance, his sexuality, his religious beliefs, and whether the works attributed to him were written by others.

Did you know?

  • This was the first portrait to be acquired by the National Portrait Gallery when it was founded in 1856.
  • This is the only portrait of Shakespeare that has a good claim to have been painted during Shakespeare’s time.
  • This portrait convinced Sigmund Freud that Shakespeare was of French descent.
  • Shakespeare was one of eight children and his father was a well-to-do glove-maker and leather worker, and his mother was a wealthy family heiress.
  • From 1585, Shakespeare disappeared from records for around seven years. Historians refer to this part of the writer’s life as ‘the lost years’.
  • Both Queen Elizabeth I and James VI of Scotland and I of England hired Shakespeare’s company to come and perform at the royal court.
  • Written on Shakespeare’s gravestone in Holy Trinity Church, at Stratford-upon-Avon, is a curse written by the famous wordsmith himself. It reads:

    ‘Good friend for Jesus’ sake forbear,
    To dig the dust enclosed here.
    Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
    And cursed be he that moves my bones.’



  • Does this portrait fit your image of William Shakespeare?
  • What do Shakespeare’s words on his gravestone reflect?

The Chandos Portrait of William Shakespeare

  • Title:             The Chandos Portrait of William Shakespeare
  • Artist:           Attributed to John Taylor
  • Date:            c. 1600s
  • Medium:      Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:  55.2 cm × 43.8 cm ( 21 3⁄4 in × 17 1⁄4 in)
  • Museum:      National Portrait Gallery, London

John Taylor

  • Name:        John Taylor
  • Born:          c. 1585 – England
  • Died:          1651 – England
  • Nationality: English


“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”
– William Shakespeare


Photo Credit: 1)  By It may be by a painter called John Taylor who was an important member of the Painter-Stainers’ Company.[1] (Official gallery link) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons