Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project
Learn more about Voltaire!The Sanders Portrait

The Sanders Portrait

Sanders Portrait of Shakespeare: Provenance and Genealogy
Sanders Portrait of Shakespeare: Science and Documentation
Sanders Portrait of Shakespeare: Reception History
News Release: Family Ties Strengthen Authenticity of Shakespeare Portrait
Sanders Portrait of Shakespeare: A Summary of the Latest Arguments In Support of Its Authenticity


Link to audio: Director Anne Henderson NPR Interview with Bob Edwards on her film Battle of Wills

Link to video: Arts and Minds, Sanders Portrait

Link to video: CBC Picturing Shakespeare, Sanders Portrait

Link to video: CBC Update, Sanders Portrait

Link to video: BBC Culture Show, The Hunt for the True Face of Shakespeare

Link to video: The Sanders Portrait of Shakespeare

Link to video: The Chandos Portrait

Link to PDF: Scientific Examination of the Sanders Portrait of William Shakespeare


In May 2001, based on a tip from her mother, Stephanie Nolen met with Lloyd Sullivan in a suburb of Ottawa to discuss a painting that may be a portrait of Shakespeare. Sullivan inherited the painting from his mother in 1972. The painting was kept in a cupboard in the upstairs hall.

The Sanders Portrait

© All rights reserved. "Sanders Portrait." Canadian Conservation

Institute, Department of Canadian Heritage, 2001.

"This much Lloyd [Sullivan] believed he knew from family tradition: the portrait was painted by his ancestor a dozen generations back, one John Sanders, born in 1576, the eldest son of a family in Worcester, England. Young John left home to make his fortune in London. There he became an actor, or at least a bit player, in Shakespeare's company--the Lord Chamberlain's Men, which was formed in 1594, when Shakespeare was thirty. John Sanders also dabbled in oils and did odd bits of painting around the theatre. He liked to try his hand at portraiture. And sometime in 1603, he prepared a sturdy oak panel and some bright oil paint and recorded the face of his colleague, William Shakespeare--then a writer of limited but burgeoning renown. Sanders or one of his children labeled the picture "Shakespeare" (in a spelling the poet himself used) and included the playwright's birth and death dates, noting that this was his likeness at the age of thirty-nine. The portrait was handed down, passing from the first John Sanders to his son, and so on through the family" (Nolen 10).

In Nolen's book, however, five of the seven authorities she consults do not believe that the picture is of Shakespeare. They point out the differences from the 1623 Martin Droeshout engraving and the bust by Geraert Janssen that marks Shakespeare's tomb in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, which are both generally accepted as authentic. A number of authorities argue that the figure in the Sanders Portrait looks much younger than the 39 Shakespeare would have been in 1603.

Nolen, Stephanie, et al. Shakespeare's Face. Toronto: Knopf, 2002.

Somerset, Alan. "Label Me a Sceptic, Tentatively, I Think..." This essay was originally delivered at the conference, “Picturing Shakespeare,” organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario and Records of Early English Drama, at the University of Toronto in November 2002.   Professor Somerset discusses the authenticity of the painting based on an examination of the paper label affixed to the back of the ‘Sanders’ portrait.  

Tiramani, Jenny. "The Sanders Portrait."  This essay was also prepared for the "Picturing Shakespeare" symposium at the University of Toronto. Tiramani analyses the costume of the sitter in the Sanders Portrait in an effort to either confirm or refute the claim that it depicts William Shakespeare.  The findings of this detailed analysis lend further support to the authenticity of the Sanders Portrait of Shakespeare.

An announcement by the National Portrait Gallery in London (April 21, 2005) cast further doubt on the authority of the existing portraits of Shakespeare.  The Flowers Portrait, owned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, has been discredited as a fake dating to the early 19th century.  For more information on this announcement, visit "Shakespeare portrait 'is a fake.'" Further, the so-called Grafton Portrait, which inspired the image of Shakespeare in the movie Shakespeare in Love was argued, in October 2005, to be a fake ("Shakespeare portrait is a fake").

Interest in an accurate depiction of Shakespeare was fueled in the lead-up to the National Portrait Gallery's forthcoming Searching for Shakespeare Exhibit, which ran from March to May of 2006. As forensic and genealogical evidence continues to come forward in relation to various candidates for most "authentic" image it is clear that the Sanders portrait remains an important contender for the title.

In advance of the British National Portrait Gallery's Searching for Shakespeare exhibit, Lloyd Sullivan (Canadian owner of the Sanders Portrait) contributed this brief synopsis to CASP of the authenticity debate around the images of Shakespeare:

Searching for Shakespeare

By Lloyd Sullivan

January 13, 2006

The Searching for Shakespeare exhibition tour will open at the National Portrait Gallery in London, England on March 2nd, 2006 and continue to May 29th, 2006. The exhibition will then travel to the Yale Center for British Art at New Haven, Connecticut and continue from June 24th, 2006 to September 17th, 2006. The tour includes the following portraits:


Flower PortraitThe Flower Portrait

The Flower Portrait came to public notice in 1892 when the portrait was lent to the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). When the man who lent it died, Sir Desmond Flower purchased it and donated it to the RSC.

At the time of the Flower Portrait’s donation to the RSC, it was widely assumed to be a genuine image of William Shakespeare painted in his lifetime and it bore the inscription of 1609. The portrait was painted on an elm panel by an unknown artist.

However, with a hazy legacy, doubts grew up about its authenticity and, more recently, painstaking scientific analysis of the portrait has revealed crucial clues about the image. The analysis was conducted by the National Portrait Gallery over a period of four months using a combination of x-rays, ultraviolet examination, paint sampling, and microphotography. The x-rays revealed that the portrait was painted on top of another painting, a 16th century Madonna and Child.

In addition, chrome yellow paint dating from around 1814 was found embedded in the portrait. Technical analysis rules out the possibility that this was simply a later re-touch of the original portrait, as the layers of paint are well integrated.

Based on the foregoing, experts at the National Portrait Gallery in London, England, have now confirmed the Flower Portrait to be a 19th century fake and not a portrait of Shakespeare painted during his lifetime, as previously thought.





“The Culture Show.” BBC TWO broadcast 7:00 p.m., April 21, 2005.

“Shakespeare portrait found to be fake.” BBC - Press Office. Press Release, April 22, 2005. <>

(see also: Update on National Portrait Gallery Scientific Research,

Grafton PortraitThe Grafton Portrait

London’s National Portrait Gallery recently revealed that an iconic portrait used on the cover of numerous books about Shakespeare, is not an image of the playwright at all.

The painting was previously believed to have portrayed the Bard at the age of 24, and its beauty, sensitivity and passion helped to inspire the image of him represented in the film Shakespeare in Love.

However, after a nine-month investigation, the National Portrait Gallery recently stated that there was no evidence that the Grafton Portrait was a portrait of William Shakespeare.

At the age of 24, Shakespeare, having at that age recently become a father of twins and having possibly joined a traveling theatre troupe, would have been unable to afford the sumptuous silk and satin jacket worn by the sitter in the portrait.

Research and restoration has confirmed that the portrait depicts a contemporary of Shakespeare. Painted in oil by an anonymous hand in 1588 when Shakespeare was 24, an inscription on the painting records the age of the sitter as 24. It has been discovered that the age originally inscribed on the portrait was 23, but was later changed to 24 by an unknown hand to agree with Shakespeare’s age in 1588.

The portrait, now owned by the John Rylands Library Museum, at the University of Manchester, England, shows a young man with curly brown hair and grey eyes. It is of interest to note that the John Rylands Library does not uphold the identification of this painting as of Shakespeare.




“Iconic image of the Bard probably not him at all: British gallery can’t prove it’s Shakespeare.” The Ottawa Citizen April 26, 2005 (Citizen article from: The Times, London)

”Shakespeare portrait is a fake.” News Telegraph October 28, 2005. <>

Chandos PortraitThe Chandos Portrait

The Chandos portrait, so-called because it was once owned by James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos, is typical of early 17th century portraiture. It is dated 1610 and is attributed to John Taylor, an actor with the King’s Men. Its claim for authenticity rests on the suggestion that it was owned by William Davenant, playwright and theatre manager (1606-1668), who claimed to be Shakespeare’s illegitimate son. However, Shakespearean scholars have rejected this claim as being unfounded as there are no historical documents to substantiate the case.

The Chandos portrait was the founding painting in the National Portrait Gallery, a gift of the Earl of Ellesmere in 1856. Some believe that Shakespeare’s friend and fellow actor, Richard Burbage had actually painted the portrait and gave it to John Taylor. Taylor then left it to William Davenant. However, this theory can not be supported with historical evidence. Many critics argue that the portrait is not of Shakespeare as the sitter does not look like an English gentleman but rather like an Italian or a Spaniard.

Most Shakespearean experts contend that the painter of the Chandos is not known and was most likely painted some years after Shakespeare’s death.

In 2004, the National Portrait Gallery announced plans to have scientific tests carried out on the Chandos similar to the tests done on the Flower and Grafton portraits. The Gallery entered into an agreement with the BBC TWO’s “The Culture Show” to produce a three-part series to reveal the results of the announced scientific investigations. All three parts of the TV series were to be shown on the BBC television network before Christmas 2005.

To date, only the results of the tests carried out on the Flower and Grafton portraits (reported in the forgoing) have been shown on the BBC (in late 2005). There is some speculation that the results of the scientific tests done on the Chandos portrait will not be revealed until sometime after the Searching for Shakespeare exhibition.


“What did Shakespeare Look Like?” Shakespeare Birthplace Trust <>

“Chandos portrait.” Wikipedia <>

Sanders PortraitThe Sanders Portrait

There have been 15 scientific tests conducted on the Sanders portrait by the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI). The results were all positive including the carbon dating of the paper label on the back of the portrait and the dendrochronological (tree-ring dating) tests done on the portrait’s two wooden panels.

The carbon dating tests requested by the CCI were carried out by Dr. R. P. Beukens of the IsoTrace Radiocarbon Laboratory (Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Facility) at the University of Toronto. The dendrochronology tests were conducted by the world’s leading dendrochronologist, Dr. Peter Klein of the University of Hamburg, Germany.

The National Portrait Gallery has accepted the results of these scientific tests and no retesting is required.

In addition to the success of the scientific tests carried out on the Sanders portrait, recent genealogical evidence, together with a number of documents and letters that have been discovered over the past twenty years, go a long way to authenticate the portrait as being a true image of Shakespeare painted in his lifetime (1603).







“Scientific Examination of the Sanders Portrait of William Shakespeare.” Canadian Conservation Institute August 15, 2000. ARL Report 3853.

Klein, Peter, Report on the dendrochronological analysis of the panel “William Shakespeare” (English). University of Hamburg, July 1, 1994.

Beukens, Roelf P. Radiocarbon Analysis Report. August 1, 2000

The National Portrait Gallery has stated that there will be no scientific tests conducted on the Jansen and Soest Portraits, because they were painted after Shakespeare’s death, and are not considered to be lifetime images of the Bard.


Jansen Portrait

The Jansen Portrait

Cornelius Jansen (1593-1664) was a Flemish painter who came to London, England in 1618 (at the age of 25), two years after William Shakespeare’s death. He worked in England from 1618 to 1643 and afterwards retired to Amsterdam, Holland. While he was in England, he was patronized by King James I and, under King Charles I, he continued to paint the numerous portraits that adorn many English mansions and collections of that era.

His arrival in London in 1618 extended the taste and increased the opportunity for the possession of portraits among those people who were of class to which Ben Jonson belonged. A likeness of Shakespeare painted by Jansen appeared about this period. It is speculated that Jansen saw and copied a cast of Shakespeare to produce his portrait.







Soest Portrait

The Soest Portrait

The Soest or Zoust portrait was owned by Thomas Wright of Covent Garden in 1725 when it was engraved by John Simon. The painting was created by Soest some 21 years after Shakespeare’s death and is primarily based on his imagination as an artist.












“Pictures of William Shakespeare.” <>

“Shakespeare’s Portraits.” <>

“Jansen.” The Encyclopedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, Vol. XV, New York, 1911. January 11, 2006.


Shakespeare portraits in the news:

On February 4, 2006, The Globe and Mail published an article by James Adams about the Searching for Shakespeare exhibit which explores some of the current debate about the 'face of Shakespeare.' Adams also interviews Lloyd Sullivan, Canadian owner of the Sanders Portrait about his efforts to authenticate it:

Adams, James. "The Great Shakespeare Faceoff." The Globe and Mail 4 Feb 2006: R1, R9.

On February 5, 2006, Times Online published an article by Christopher Hudson about the upcoming Searching for Shakespeare exhibit which also details the portrait debate from an especially British perspective:

Hudson, Christopher. "Fakespeare." Times Online. 5 Feb. 2006: Npag.

Following the British National Portrait Gallery's announcement on BBC2 television's The Culture Show, The Globe and Mail published this article about Tarnya Cooper's announcement that scientific tests have proven the Chandos portrait "reasonably likely" to be an authentic portrait of the Bard:

Adams, James. "This one is (probably) Will, portraiture expert says: Canadian owner of another painting will seek further proof it is Shakespeare." The Globe and Mail. 17 Feb. 2006: A3.

German academic Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel published findings about research into four Shakespeare images in The New Scientist on February 24, 2006. Dr. Hammerschmidt-Hummel is professor of literature at the University of Mainz, and she had forensic scientists investigate a death mask of Shakespeare owned by the German city of Darmstadt, the Davenant Bust which is owned by the Garrick Club in London, and the Flower and Chandos portraits (announcing all of them to be authentic likenesses). This report comes in advance of the publication of her book The True Face of William Shakespeare.

Edwards, Rob. "Is this the Bard I see before me?" The New Scientist 2540 (24 Feb. 2006): 12.

The National Portrait Gallery's Searching for Shakespeare exhibit opened March 2, 2006. This article, which appeared in The Observer, demonstrates that the debate and intrigue around the 'face of Shakespeare' continues to sell newspapers. However, the terms in which the debate is figured here are ultimately based on romantic notions of an English national hero, and they carefully ignore scientific or genealogical evidence (although the article indicates that this evidence exists). The conclusions of this article re-inscribe the bardolatry it describes by glossing over specific details and celebrating Shakespeare's iconic status.

McCrum, Robert. "A wild goose chase after genius." The Observer 5 Mar. 2006: Np.

Scotland's Sunday Herald reviewed the NPG's Searching for Shakespeare exhibit in their March 19 issue, and gave it a mediocre report. The article notes that the exhibit did not live up to the media hype about the authenticity debate, and that instead of revealing information about the portraits, the exhibit is mostly a "museum-style show" of Shakespeare-related paraphernalia. While the article remarks that "[t]he Bard's hallowed visage is a motif ... wrapped up with England's identity," discussion of the Sanders Portrait notes a similarity in appearance between the 'Canadian' portrait and modern Scottish actor Kevin McKidd.

Black, Catriona. "Will the real Will please stand up?" Sunday Herald 19 Mar. 2006: Np.



External Links:

A New Shakespeare Portrait?

Shakespeare in Canada: The Sanders Portrait

Michael Dobson. "And That Rug!" London Review of Books 25.21 (6 Nov. 2003)

Shakespeare Fellowship: The Sanders Painting

Ryan Vernan. "A new image of Shakespeare?"

Marie-Claude Corbeil. "The Scientific Examination of the Sanders Portrait of William Shakespeare."

Shakespeare-related Paintings


CASP Links:

Link to video: Arts and Minds, Sanders Portrait

Link to video: CBC Picturing Shakespeare, Sanders Portrait

Link to video: CBC Update, Sanders Portrait

Link to video: BBC Culture Show, The Hunt for the True Face of Shakespeare

Link to video: The Sanders Portrait of Shakespeare

Link to video: The Chandos Portrait

Link to PDF: Scientific Examination of the Sanders Portrait of William Shakespeare


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Fischlin, Daniel. Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project . University of Guelph. 2004.

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