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Bard in muddle

Grafton Portrait is not of William Shakespeare, claims Britain's National Portrait Gallery.

india Updated: Nov 04, 2005 20:34 IST

One of the most famous portraits of English playwright William Shakespeare is not him after all, Britain's National Portrait Gallery announced Friday.

The Grafton Portrait is one of the most iconic images of the literary giant. However, after nine months of restoration work and research, the National Portrait Gallery announced that it has no evidence to support the view that it is of Shakespeare.

Scientific investigation proved that the picture, painted in oils by an anonymous artist, dates back to 1588, when the playwright would have been 24.

An inscription on the painting records the date of 1588 and the age of 24.

However, experts say Shakespeare was about to join a travelling theatre group after fathering twins, and was unlikely to have been able to afford the clothes depicted.

The sitter has curly brown hair and grey eyes and wears a silk or satin scarlet jacket.

"We believe that Shakespeare left Stratford-upon-Avon following the birth of twins in 1585," said Tarnya Cooper, 16th Century curator at the National Portrait Gallery.

"One possibility is that he joined a travelling theatre troupe and it is very unlikely that in 1588, Shakespeare would have been able to afford a costume of this type.

"The painting hasn't really been looked at in a systematic way before. It's an expensive and timely process.

"But the painting has fuelled the kind of 'Shakespeare in Love' theories of the 21st century, of a beautiful young man with a sensitive and passionate

face, of a character with an incredible emotional range."

The Grafton Portrait is not the first well-known Shakespeare picture now thought not to be of the bard.

National Portrait Gallery experts confirmed in April that the Royal Shakespeare Company's Flower Portrait was a 19th century fake.

The so-called Chandos portrait is up next for examination. Technical analysis has confirmed an English origin for the picture, as well as a late 16th-century date.