The last time the famous Flower portrait of Shakespeare (the one showing him wearing a wide white collar) made news was back in 2005
, when experts at the National Portrait Gallery declared it a fraud painted sometime during the 19th century.
Now a German scholar, Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel, is arguing that the National Portrait Gallery experts didn't examine the original painting. She believes that sometime in the past ten years someone stole the original Flower portrait and substituted a fake in its place
Professor Hammerschmidt-Hummel said yesterday that the original had been substituted by a copy. In 2005 it was sent to the laboratories of the National Portrait Gallery and dismissed as a 19th century forgery after it was found to contain chrome yellow, a colour that was commercially available only from 1814 onwards.
“Where is the priceless 400-year-old original Flower portrait?” asked the professor, who lectures in English literature at the University of Mainz.
She said that she was basing her conclusions on tests that she carried out on what she says was the original – which she she last saw in 1996 – and on the version that she claims is a copy, which she saw in January.
The Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Portrait Gallery are disputing her claim:
A spokes-woman for the RSC said that the only time the painting had not been on display under CCTV coverage in the RSC Collection Gallery was when it was in a secure store room. Dr Tarnya Cooper, the portrait gallery’s 16th century curator, said: “The idea that this picture has been substituted for a different portrait between 1996 and 2005 is plainly nonsensical . . . Any perceived differences between photographs are likely to be caused by differences in lighting conditions.”
So, if I'm understanding this controversy correctly, Hammerschmidt-Hummel is saying that the Flower portrait is real because the one we have is a fake. But the RSC and Portrait Gallery are saying that the Flower portrait is fake because the one we have is the real one.