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Newly-identified Shakespeare portrait comes home
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08:55, April 24, 2009

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A newly-identified picture of William Shakespeare, believed to be the first lifetime portrait of the great playwright and writer, started its three-month-long show here from Thursday.

Launched on the 445th birthday of Shakespeare, the exhibition, titled "Shakespeare Found," also features other rarely seen portraits that illustrate the argument for the identification of the portrait by the Cobbe family, who are the owner, among others, of the Portrait of Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare's patron and close friend.

Other famous Shakespeare portraits in the exhibition include the famous engraving of Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout, which has long been printed alongside Shakespeare's literary works.

The identification of the Cobbe portrait is said by the exhibition organizers to be a challenge to the status of being the closest representation of Shakespeare for the balding man people know from the Droeshout engraving, published in 1623 at the front of the First Folio.

Professor Stanley Wells, one of the most respected Shakespeare experts in Britain, said that the Cobbe portrait might even be the source by way of a copy for the engraving made after Shakespeare's death in 1616.

The Cobbe portrait, however, does raise many questions like Shakespeare's social status from his handsome and glamorous looking and dress, and more importantly his sexuality with the Southampton Earl, with whom he was very close, the organizer said.

While Wells, chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, claims the Cobbe portrait is an encouraging discovery, Roy Strong, another expert, said that this Shakespeare is "Codswallop."

Alec Cobbe, co-heir of the Cobbe estate and the portrait, said that he would rather believe the portrait is the lifetime portrait and the source copy of other portraits, and would like to see what comes out of the controversy around it.

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