The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Portrait

A portrait of William Shakespeare by an unknown artist

A portrait of William Shakespeare by an unknown artist

Oil on panel

In 2006 a portrait from a private family collection in Ireland was identified as William Shakespeare. This portrait, known as ‘The Cobbe Portrait’, was painted from life around 1610. It is most likely to have been commissioned and owned by Shakespeare’s patron Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton.

It has been established that the Cobbe Portrait was used as the basis for several copies painted in the seventeenth century, all of which have independent claims to be portraits of Shakespeare. ‘The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Portrait’ is the earliest known of these.

It would not have been unusual for a rich patron with several houses to want copies of portraits, so it is possible that the Earl of Southampton also commissioned the Shakespeare Birthplace copy.  Southampton’s direct descendant, Jane Digby, was the wife of the Earl of Ellenborough, in whose collection the portrait was inventoried in 1878.

It was purchased in 2009 with the support of the Friends of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.