Experts to Debate, Discuss Canadian Portrait of Shakespeare
November 27, 2013 – News Release
The face of William Shakespeare and its ties to the University of Guelph are the focus of an unprecedented conference being held in Toronto this week.
“Look Here Upon This Picture: A Symposium on the Sanders Portrait of Shakespeare” will share evidence gathered by U of G experts and others showing that a Canadian man owns the only portrait of William Shakespeare painted while the playwright was alive.
Thought to depict the Bard at age 39, the Sanders portrait is owned by Ottawa resident Lloyd Sullivan, a friend and supporter of U of G.
“The University of Guelph has played a key role in the analysis of the Sanders portrait,” said president Alastair Summerlee.
“After many years of effort, we are now prepared to share an insider’s view of how this research can enhance the world’s understanding of the impact of the Bard.”
It’s believed that Shakespeare sat for an ancestor of Sullivan’s, an actor and painter named John Sanders, in 1603. The portrait was held in the family for 400 years and at one time was stored under Sullivan’s grandmother’s bed. Sullivan inherited it from his mother in 1972.
The Sanders portrait was the centrepiece of a months-long exhibit at Guelph’s Macdonald Stewart Art Centre in 2007. It’s also the signature image of U of G’s Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project (CASP), the world’s largest and most complete website about Shakespeare’s cultural influence.
CASP was founded and directed by Guelph English professor Daniel Fischlin, who has spent the past decade helping to authenticate the portrait and trace family connections between Shakespeare and Sullivan’s ancestors.
“We embarked on this journey to find the truth,” Fischlin said. Referring to scientific, historical and genealogical evidence, he said, “The cumulative weight of it is unprecedented and makes the portrait the rarest of all art commodities: the only image of Shakespeare painted during his lifetime that has survived the period. No portrait comes close or has faced the same degree of interdisciplinary scholarly scrutiny.”
The symposium, sponsored by U of G and CASP, will be held Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Munk School of Global Affairs in Toronto.
Speakers will discuss the history of the portrait and Shakespeare’s presence in Canada. Besides Summerlee and Fischlin, the symposium will include U of G professors John Kissick, director of the School of Fine Art and Music and a respected painter; and Robert Enright, University Research Professor in Art Criticism and one of Canada’s most prominent cultural journalists.
Panel discussions and talks will also feature journalists, scholars, gallery directors, museum curators, filmmakers, historians and costume designers discussing everything from the portrait’s provenance and context to its value and legacy.
“It’s in the best public interest to move this portrait into the public domain where ongoing research and debate can continue,” Summerlee said.
“Canadians also should be able to access this wonderful image in a properly curated setting. We hope that this symposium plays a prominent role in making that happen.”
More than a dozen forensic tests have confirmed that the Sanders painting dates from around 1600 and has remained unaltered. They include tests of ink from a hand-written inscription on a label identifying the subject as William Shakespeare and listing his birth and death dates.
Working with British genealogist Pam Hinks, Fischlin and his team have uncovered relations between Sullivan and Shakespeare and his closest associates that extend back thirteen generations. With Hinks, Fischlin and his research team have visited gravesites, uncovered and transcribed historical documents, examined major historical archives in the U.K., and interviewed Sullivan’s relatives. The full results of that work will be outlined at the symposium.
Fischlin learned about the Sanders portrait while seeking original Canadian adaptations of Shakespeare for CASP. He contacted Sullivan and obtained the right to use the image.
In 2006, the portrait was part of “Searching for Shakespeare,” an international exhibit by the National Portrait Gallery in London that toured North America. It joined the gallery’s famed Chandos painting and four other early “contenders” purporting to represent Shakespeare.
The Sanders portrait was also the subject of the 2001 book Shakespeare’s Face and of award-winning Canadian documentarian Anne Henderson’s 2008 film Battle of Wills.
Prof. Daniel Fischlin
School of English and Theatre Studies
519 824-4120, Ext. 53267