King's College London
Online Exhibitions
'The very age and body of the time': Shakespeare's world

Droeshout's portrait of Shakespeare

Engraved portrait of William ShakespeareEngraved portrait of William ShakespeareThe opening from A book of homage featured in this section shows a reproduction of the famous portrait of Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout (ca 1565-ca 1642), an engraver of Flemish descent whose family had moved to London in the late 16th century, living near the Dutch Church at Austin Friars.

The Dutch were one of the largest expatriate groups in London at the time, numbering some 5,000 out of a total population of 100,000. Many had fled the Continent due to religious persecution, while others were skilled economic migrants.

Droeshout’s reputation rests solely on his engraving of Shakespeare, which was commissioned for the First Folio of 1623, edited by John Heminges and Henry Condell.

In his essay for Gollancz’s commemoration, the art critic MH Spielmann is rather disparaging of Droeshout’s technique and execution while conceding that ‘this uncouth print, with all its imperfections … bears in its delineation the unmistakable stamp of truth.’

Ben Jonson’s comment in his poem To the reader, printed opposite the engraving in the First Folio, suggests that Droeshout captures something of the physical appearance of Shakespeare:

This figure, that thou here seest put,
It was for gentle Shakespeare cut:
Wherein the graver had a strife
With Nature, to out-doo the life:
O, could he but have drawne his wit
As well in brasse, as he hath hit
His face; the print would then surpasse
All, that was ever in brasse.
But, since he cannot, reader, looke
Not on his picture, but his booke.

In this exhibition


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