Virtual Exhibit

The Sanders Portrait

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The Sanders Portrait: This Is the Face of the Bard

Click the following links to access the Image Gallery and the Video Gallery

This gallery investigates and examines the history of the Canadian-owned Sanders Portrait: a painting of an enigmatic, intense man said to be William Shakespeare. The painting dated 1603, is distinct from the other Shakespeare contenders because its label, duly dated to the period, establishes the sitter as “Shakspere” and its 400-year old ownership is ascribed to one family, the Sanders, descendants of the artist who initially painted the portrait. This family provenance is established through extensive genealogical records, family documents, and oral traditions within the family. The Sanders Portrait is of significant educational and historical value to Canada and Canadiansbut it is also of tremendous importance as a global cultural artefact. It not only tells the familiar story of immigration to the country (the portrait came to Canada in 1919) but it has also come to represent the pervasive presence of Shakespeare in Canada, and, indeed, globally.


Sanders Portrait

Not many would argue with the statement that William Shakespeare is the greatest and best-known English poet and dramatist. But who was the historical figure behind these timeless writings? What does the face of genius look like? For centuries, Shakespeare has continued to be elusive and shrouded in mystery. Of the many portraits and busts of Shakespeare, only two are accepted as authentic. One the copper engraving from the first Folio of Shakespeare’s work (1623) and the other, the stone memorial bust in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Both of these, however, were created after his death and the materials have deteriorated in quality. No paintings have definitively been proven to be of Shakespeare (painted during his lifetime), though a number of possible contenders exist. Of these, only the British-owned Chandos and the Canadian-owned Sander’s Portrait remain in serious contention–and there are serious problems with both the provenance and the material evidence that relate to the Chandos Portrait.

The Sanders portrait was painted on two oak panels, which have been dated to 1597. The date “Anno 1603” appears in the upper right hand corner. If the painting is authenticated it will emerge as the only painting of Shakespeare to have been made during Shakespeare’s lifetime. The Sanders Portrait hasThe Sanders Portrait been subjected to a wide range of scientific tests–perhaps more than any other Shakespeare painting–including radiocarbon analysis, infrared spectroscopy, materials tests (including ink and glue tests), and X-rays, as well as expert analysis concerning style, techniques, hairstyles, and dress. All such tests have concluded that the Sanders Portrait dates from the general period (late Elizabethan, early Jacobean), and that the sitter is consistent with someone of Shakespeare’s age and social standing at that precise point in his career trajectory.

Two elements, however, separate the Sander’s Portrait from other contenders. The first is a linen label affixed to the back of the portrait, this label now deteriorated to such a degree that it has been rendered unreadable, was legible in 1909, when the portrait was first examined for authenticity. It reads:

Born April 23-1564
Died April 23-1616
Aged 52
This Likeness taken 1603
Age at that time 39 yrs

This label and the glue that affixes it to the oak panels have been scientifically proven to date before 1640, making it a valuable piece of evidence. The second element is the portrait’s provenance: the Sanders Portrait has been passed from generation to generation in one continuous genealogy. Its current owner, Lloyd Sullivan, inherited it from his mother Kathleen Hales Sanders, who in turn had inherited the portrait through her family as it passed through the generations. This family provenance is an extraordinary story, entailing immigration, family dramas, fires, and any number of challenges that would make survival of such an object difficult.

Click the following links to access the Image Gallery and the Video Gallery

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