Coventry & Warwickshire

Shakespeare portrait in New York

Image from exhibition in New York
Image caption The Morgan Library & Museum is hosting an exhibition

The Morgan Library & Museum in New York is hosting an exhibition of the Jacobean painting believed to be the only surviving life portrait of William Shakespeare and two its copies.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust believes one version found in Madrid within the last year was thought to be the oldest copy of the Cobbe portrait - and both were painted in the same studio.

The approach to the site on Madison Avenue, Manhattan, could not appear more surreal to the exhibition, where three versions are on show, including the original.

With yellow cabs outside honking horns on the street, inside was calm.

Most famous son

That made you feel that the eyes of the gentleman in question were watching you, as you looked at one of the surviving copies of Shakespeare's First Folio published in 1623.

Technical analysis of the paintings show that the hairline had been modified through the years to presumably accommodate fashion and the Bard's increasing baldness.

But it is these changes that now lead critics to question the authenticity that this really is Stratford's most famous son.

One New Yorker told me that the display was like religion - you either had faith or you did not and that was your choice.

Image caption Portraits of Shakespeare went on display in New York at the weekend

I did not feel qualified to join in that debate.

Instead, I simply wondered at the 3,000-mile (4,828km) journey the paintings had made to a country that was in its infancy when William Shakespeare was in his prime.

Shakespeare's timber-framed houses in Stratford are now showing their 400 years. A dose of death watch beetle is threatening their very existence and they need an expensive treatment to conserve them.

It is no surprise then that the portraits are on display in Manhattan.

This new country is openly obsessed with one of our greatest playwrights and could prove a wealthy benefactor in preserving the Shakespeare houses.

Remember your school days and struggling to understand Shakespeare's English.

I felt a similar experience in New York. Here was a country who looked at me aghast when I asked for cutlery and instead brought me coffee.

They went on to describe my accent as quaint.

But here was a country that was more hungry and passionate for a playwright that we sometimes could be accused of simply tolerating.

Here was a country, for all our similarities and difference, that could hold the wealth and the commitment to preserving Shakespeare's legacy for the next 400 years.

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