Page last updated at 14:56 GMT, Monday, 9 March 2009

Original Bard portrait unveiled

William Shakespeare
The portrait is believed to have been painted in 1610

A portrait of William Shakespeare thought to be the only picture made of the playwright during his lifetime has been unveiled in London.

It is believed the artwork dates back to 1610, six years before Shakespeare's death at the age of 52.

The newly authenticated picture was inherited by art restorer Alec Cobbe.

The portrait will go on show at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon from 23 April, the author's birthday.

The painting has been in the Cobbe family for centuries, through its marital link to Shakespeare's only literary patron, Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton.

'Very fine painting'

Mr Cobbe realised the significance of the painting after visiting an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery where he saw a portrait that had until 70 years ago been accepted as a life portrait of Shakespeare.

He immediately realised that it was a copy of the painting in his family collection.

Professor Stanley Wells, chairman of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, said: "The identification of this portrait marks a major development in the history of Shakespearean portraiture. This new portrait is a very fine painting."

There has long been controversy over the accuracy of some of the portraits claimed as likenesses of Shakespeare.

Experts generally agree the most accurate depictions are a bust of the playwright originally put up in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon and an engraving made for the title page of the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays.

Both are thought likely to be accurate as they were created or commissioned shortly after his death in 1616 by people who had actually met him.

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