Paintings as Evidence                         by Peter Jensen

Playing with Renaissance Paintings 


Here are some manipulated images, interpretations created for my book cover by Eugene artist, Michael Backus.

Aemelia Bessano Lanyer? 

I asked Michael Backus to derive an image of the dark lady from the painting (to the right) of a woman who could drive Will crazy with desire, someone who looked a little like Catherine Zeta-Jones in Zorro.




Peter Bassano of London, a fine musician and a living relative of Aemelia, believes that the Hillyard miniature (right)  is an image of her. Those interested in heraldry and its emblems point out that the 3, repeating yellow emblems on the  front, white background of her dress are:

1.  The silkworm moth, emblem of the Bassano families' participation  in the domestic, Italian silk trade.

2. The mulberry branch, also  tied to  plantations of mulberry trees on land granted to the Bassano family to feed silkworms. This emblem may tie into Will's planting of a mulberry tree in the backyard of the New Place in Stratford, an emblem of his continuing burning flame for the dark lady.

3. The stag trippant—with one foreleg raised—may signal Aemelia's husband's connection to Lord Essex as a military musician on expeditions to Spain and Ireland.

We derived an image of the 3rd Earl of Southampton,        Henry Wriothesley.              I asked Mike Backus to use the Hilliard miniature (right top) but to give Henry hair and face that look more like  his famous descendent, Princess Diana (below). Thus, the Sonnets' prediction that the Youth's "copies" will also make him immortal comes true in our "whirlygig" time.

Princess Diana









1601 to 1603

The youth in the Tower

1603 to 1609

The youth released & reunited with Will




Christopher Marlowe

    (aka Kit Morely) 

I asked Mike Backus not to alter the Cambridge Eating Hall portrait very much. It was painted in 1585 when Marlowe and Will were both 21 years old.

The best pioneer for investigating English Renaissance paintings as evidence in Shakespeare's life and time is the independent scholar Charles Nicholl.

In 1997, he authored a slim volume called Elizabethan Writers [And their Patrons], which was published in London with illustrations by the National Portrait Gallery.

The Poet

William Shakespeare

Mike Backus' image of Will is based on the Chandros Protrait of the 1590s (right). Was this painted in 1599 by  

Richard Burbage 

to commemoratre the opening of the Globe Theater in June 1599 when Will was 35? This was the first painting donated to start the British National Portrait Gallery.

NOTE: I have written a new chapter entitled "Shakespeare's Use of Perspective in the Sonnets."

It takes off from Sonnet 24 and investigates the transfer of Renaissance, painterly geometry from art to the points of view (both the eye position and the vanishing points) in Will's Sonnets.

Renaissance Paintings 

I dedicate this page to my mother, Marion Ebbers Jensen, who taught art to 6th graders in Brooklyn, New York for 43 years. She loved Mexican art and Italian Renaissance paintings. 

"Unknown Lady in Black," by Marcus Geerearts the Younger in 1592, the year Aemelia was dismissed as Lord Hundon's pregnant mistress and forced to marry her cousin Alphonse.  

Two miniatures by Hilliard:

Another "unknown" woman? 1593 is the year of Will's "Venus & Adonis" and the birth of Aemelia's [bastard] son Henry. The gold lettering says this woman is 26 years old, but Aemelia was 24 that year.

In 1611 (2 years after Will's Sonnets were published), Aemelia Lanyer became the 1st  English woman to publish her own book of poetry.  

The Youth 

1594 is the year Henry Wriothesley turned 21 when [loving] Will dedicated "The Rape of Lucrece" to him.

1590? Is this a Birthday portrait of Henry Wriothesley at 17 when the first 17 sonnets were written for his mother Mary Southampton to read to him in a vain attempt to get this sullen youth to marry young with the wrong lady, Elizabeth de Vere? Does this painting (above) show the face of Shakespeare's "master-mistress of my passion?" (Sonnet 20)

There are other, later paintings of Henry Wriothesley, which I link to later sonnets by Shakespeare. All these paintings do remind us that Henry and his wife Elizabeth Vernon are ancestors to Princess Diana (and her sons Wills & Harry) through Henry's daughter Penelope Wriothesley, who married Lord Spencer. What a wonderful and mysterious outcome from Shakespeare's promise of immortality  to the youth if he would only marry and beget some "copies" of himself! He did, and we know them!

From 1601—1603,                     Henry Wriothesley was in the London Tower (above), convicted by his political enemies for his part in the Essex Rebellion. Here he is shown with his cat Trixie, awaiting release from prison by the new, incoming King James I. 

Later Sonnets may document Shakespeare's continued love for Henry Wriothesley. 

Can you find the clues?

                Sonnet 99: Does this record Essex's execution and the court's                                             theft from Henry?

                Sonnets 100—106: Do these record Henry's 3 years in the                                             Tower? "Where art thou Muse?"


                Sonnet 107: Does this sonnet record Elizabeth I's death, James                                         I's coronation. peace with Spain, and Henry's release from                                         the Tower and reunion with Will?

                Sonnet 110: Does this sonnet record Will's admission that he                                             fooled around with a "rival" patron (perhaps William                                                     Herbert) while Henry was in the Tower and Will's wish for a                                     return to Henry?

                  Sonnets 111—126: Do these 16 sonnets record their time                                                 together up to 1609? 

            Two Poets: Will & Kit

This is the Cambridge Eating Hall portrait of Christopher Marlowe, 1585. Did Marlowe have this done to commemorate his school years when he was working on his MA, translating Ovid, and spying on Catholics on the Continent for Queen Elizabeth I's spy service? The Latin motto reads,  


which Shakespeare translated as 

            "Consumed with that which it was nourished by,"  

                                                (Sonnet 73.12). 

This was an ironic motto for the wall in an eating hall (where Marlowe treated his poorer, fellow students to butter and beer with his extra pay for spying). The painting (if it is of Kit) shows a cocky young grad student and spy in a French slashed jacket, which was designed to look as if the wearer had survived many sword fights. Did it impress the undergraduates?

The Chandros portrait of William Shakespeare, 1590s. 

A 2006 book by a German scholar, Hildegard Hammerschmidt- Hummel, depends on the help of German federal forensic scientists and computer graphic experts to validate the Chandros portrait as one of six valid images of William Shakespeare:

1. The Chandros Portrait                     1590s/1599?

2. The Flower Portrait                             1609?

3. The Davenant Bust                             1613

4. The Darmstadt death mask            1616

5. The Stratford Bust                                 1617

6. The Droeshout Engraving                 1623 

"And perspective it is the best painter's art."

                                                Sonnet 24.4