'Shakespeare' portrait hung for years in Irish big house


THE PORTRAIT at the centre of claims that it is the only picture painted of William Shakespeare during his lifetime hung for years, unrecognised, on the walls of a country house near Dublin, it has emerged.

The portrait, which was painted in 1610, six years before the bard’s death, has been in the possession of the Cobbe family since the early 18th century. It is currently owned by the Cobbe family trust.

For almost 250 years the Cobbe family home was at Newbridge House near Donabate in north Co Dublin. The house and surrounding park was bought by the then Dublin County Council in 1985.

Channel 4 News last night showed a photograph of the Cobbe “Shakespeare” portrait hanging in the drawing room at Newbridge House in the early 1900s.

The Cobbe family had believed the picture was a portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh. The name “Sir Walter Raleigh” had been written in ink on the rear side of the painting.

Art restorer Alec Cobbe said that in 2006 he visited an exhibition of Shakespeare portraits in London and realised he owned a picture that was remarkably similar to one on display by Cornelis Janssen, a Flemish painter who worked in England in the early 17th century.

The Cobbe painting has been the subject of a series of scientific tests over recent years to see whether the Janssen picture, now owned by the Folger Library in Washington, was a copy.

The Cobbe picture has been dated to 1610, when Shakespeare would have been 46.

The chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Prof Stanley Wells, has supported the claim that the Cobbe picture is a portrait of the bard. Last night he told Channel 4 News he was 99 per cent sure it was a portrait of Shakespeare.

The Cobbe portrait and two copies will be exhibited from next month at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Mr Cobbe said last night that the most likely scenario was that “a lot of people will say, ‘nonsense, it is not Shakespeare at all’, but I will not necessarily believe them”.