WHO PAINTED THE WADLOW PORTRAIT?
Knowing who painted the Wadlow portrait could help discover the true identity of the sitter. There are several candidates.
The first and most obvious is Zucherro (Zuccari) whose name is written on the rear of the painting. However although Zucherro did come to England in 1575, he was back in Italy in the 1580’s. Dendrochronology gives an earliest date for Wadlow portrait wood as 1595 so Zucherro could not have been the painter. Also his name on the back is in lead pencil which was not available at the time the portrait was painted.
The first person to offer a possible artist was Sir Roy Strong who is probably the leading expert on the period. In a letter to Steven Wadlow he suggested William Segar as the painter. He noted that the painting around the eyes of the Wadlow portrait was very similar to Segar’s portrait of the Earl of Essex.
He also said that the painting is definitely English and that the coat of arms is a later addition. William Segar had close links to William Shakespeare and in particular the Shakespeare coat of arms. The allocation of a coat of arms to William Shakespeare’s father John was called into question by herald Ralph Brooke. The grant of arms originally made by Dethick was cited as one of twenty-three examples of arms wrongly awarded to “base and mean persons” in the late 1590s. However, the granting of arms to Shakespeare was later ratified by William Segar who entered the college of arms in 1585. Segar was also a well respected portrait artist who painted many of the aristocracy. His sister Jane was a poet.
William Segar, Garter Principal King of Arms, early 17th century
Catharine Macleod of the NPG suggested Robert Peake as the painter. Shakespeare and Peake were linked by their shared geography and their professions. Peake worked for the Office of Revels in the building where several of Shakespeare’s plays were rehearsed and performed during the same years. In the 1590’s Robert Peake was known for painting portraits of fashionable Londoners. Both men also lived near Holborn Conduit. Martin Droeshout, who made the First Folio image, had works printed by William Peake, Robert’s son. So in 1623 when Droeshout who had never met Shakespeare was looking for a portrait on which to base an engraving for the first folio of Shakespeare’s works Peake might have had knowledge of a portrait made when Shakespeare was still alive.
Henry Prince of Wales 1610 Robert Peake. Peake became official painter to Henry from 1603.