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It is amusing moreover to see him cramming upon Kneller, the very drug with which Ben Jonson had so long before choked the
Dutchman Droeshout. Even the rhymes are the same:
So near, they almost conquer in the strife.*
Poetry indeed hardly ever speaks of painting with any exactness of commendation. When, as before quoted, Dryden writes of the “majestic face” of Shakspeare, unquestionably he says of it what the picture, in any usual sense of the word, does not exhibit. When applied to either man or woman, or to lower ranks of animal nature, majesty always implies an aspect of command, a visible feeling of superiority. There is nothing of this in the picture.
But although it is too characteristic of our poet's amiable and modest nature, to be what Dryden terms majestic, it is nevertheless
interesting in no common degree, and will be always, I think, the
* Gravity itself must relax into a smile, to find our poet even preceding
Jonson in this allusion: he had published the following couplet in the year 1593:
“Look, when a painter would surpass the life,
favourite exhibition of Shakspeare. The eyes have great expression, and the compression of the lips indicates the earnest employment of the mind—it is a rare combination of penetration and placid composure. The original picture has become so dark from age, as to have deepened the expression of gravity into sternness; this may be apparent to those who have been indulged with an impression of the private plate, which has been engraven at the command of the noble possessor of the picture. I therefore, in opposition to Mr. Boswell, strictly adhere to Mr. Humphry's drawing in 1783. Forty years make great changes in a picture, left originally unfinished, of which much of the surface has been cleaned away, and which in its “nighted colour,” is certainly but the ghost of what it once had been. In Mr. Malone's opinion, the drawing of Mr. Ozias Humphry is invaluable. I have fortunately the means of perpetuating the view taken by that artist of this venerable portrait. As not the slightest indication of the dress remains, I cannot countenance another invention, in addition to the liberties taken already by the various copyists and engravers. The countenance is clearly made out by the artist, and that is all that we can really ascertain. It was to terminate all delusion upon this
subject, that the present work was undertaken.
PORTRAIT BY ZUCCHERO.
About the time that I first inspected the Chandos head, or not long after, my old friend Sir William Beechey mentioned to me, that Mr. Cosway had what he termed an original picture by Zucchero, of the poet, and that I had better look at it. Accordingly, soon after, we went to Mr. Cosway's together, and finding him at home, we had the picture taken down; and those excellent artists agreed, that it was unquestionably a head by Zucchero. It was painted upon pannel, and on the back we read the poet's name, Guglielm: Shakspeare. The picture exhibited a youthful poet, leaning with his face upon the right hand; the head stooped forward, in earnest meditation, with the evidences of composition lying before him. A very coarse mezzotinto from it may still be found among the dealers, which gives but an imperfect likeness, inasmuch as most of the beauty, and much of the sentiment, are missed by the engraver. Indeed the print is as rude as the picture was delicate and refined. Decent pains were wanting in the very setting out of this print; for the artist, I remember, was barbarously written down Zucro.
The age of the person whom Zucchero thus painted, must have been verging upon 30, because the beard is full, dark, and luxuriant; the hair black; the eyes bright, and full of intelligence. But unfortunately, Zucchero never could have painted Shakspeare. Having exhibited some of the pope's officers, with ass's ears, over the gate of the church of St. Luke, the patron of painters, he was compelled to fly to preserve his own:—he went first to Flanders, and in 1574 came to England, where he painted Queen Elizabeth twice, and also Queen Mary of Scotland; who, for some time after, might be said to be rather rusticated than confined, and in 1583 was very near obtaining her liberty altogether.
His stay in this country was certainly not long; probably five or six years at most. If he left us in 1580, Shakspeare was then only 16 years old, and at his native Stratford, paying his court to fair Mistresse Anne Hathaway, and indubitably undistinguished by dramatic talent; though he might have even then cultivated the Muses, and framed perhaps some of the Sonnets, which he wrote upon the subject of Venus and Adonis, before he fixed on the stanza, in which he finally composed that elaborate, and, in many respects, most beautiful poem.
It is said of Zucchero, that he was offended at our religion. There were plenty of Catholics, both open and concealed, to preserve him from the imputation of singularity; and the great number of our nobility and gentry, who employed him, may shew, that our religion by no means protested against the hand which bestowed the graces of art. He quitted us, however, before the atrocious murder of Queen. MARY violated something more sacred than the prejudice of a zealous Catholic, by outraging the common feelings of humanity. . . . About a year before Mr. Cosway died, I called upon him, to inspect the picture carefully again, that I might not be compelled to rely upon an impression made five and twenty years ago. He told me, upon my pointing to its old position in his sitting-room, that he had lent it to a very amiable friend of his, a female artist, who had requested leave to copy it. While we conversed upon other topics, he sent his servant to that lady, with a desire that she would indulge him with it for a few minutes. He was greatly surprised to find that the fair artist had returned it to him a considerable time since; but it had not been replaced in his parlour, and he in vain tried to conjecture what had become of it. This portrait was an oval, life size, most delicately painted, with something peculiar in the oblique, or cat-like position of the eyes. I may add, that it had not the slightest resemblance to the traditional complexion, and established features of the great poet of England. Of Torquato Tasso, indeed, it bears more than a slight look; and struck an accomplished friend of mine, as indicating all the mingled characteristics of genius and passion, that denoted the mighty author of the Gerusalemme Liberata. I feel no difficulty in declaring it to be an Italian portrait; and it might indeed have been painted for himself or his brother Taddeo:—nor are the indications of poetical composition in this picture at all adverse to such a supposition, for Federigo certainly wrote and published verses: most of the painters