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Where did the portrait come from?

Peter Wadlow tells us that the portrait came from a large house in the Banbury area that was being renovated in the late 1960s. Research reveals that the best candidate is Great Tew. At that time, the house had been inherited by Major Eustace Robb but was in a bad condition so Robb embarked on a massive renovation project.

Great Tew manor house

He started by clearing out anything that could be sold to raise funds and this included many paintings. An example of the types of work that were in the house came to light after the Major’s death. Amongst the many artworks was a drawing by Michelangelo. Having remained hidden in the house for centuries the work sold at auction by Christies for £4.1m

Shakespeare in disguise

Why would anyone want to disguise a portrait of William Shakespeare?

The overpaint on the Wadlow portrait points to attempts to try to disguise the identity of the subject whatever his identity might be.


16th and 17th century England was torn apart by religious intolerance. There is evidence that points to Shakespeare’s family being Catholics, his father John was often absent from his local protestant church and was fined as a result. During Cromwell’s reign when the theatres were closed having a portrait of a playwright on the wall might have got its owner into trouble and lead to the painting being destroyed as often happened. So if you wanted to keep it on display one way to do that would be to hide the sitter’s identity.

Coat of arms revealed by x-ray under overpainting at left side of portrait

Coat of arms revealed by x-ray. Top right under later added fake coat of arms.

There were ways to disguise a painting and let other Catholics know that you hadn’t turned away from the Pope. It is probable that one such clue might exist in the collar of the Wadlow portrait. It is made up of intricate lace stars with four points. However one of them has six points which is similar to “Mary’s star” an important Catholic symbol. The painting also contains examples of the Quincunx a five dot pattern used in secret Catholic meeting houses in the Midlands which depicts the 'Five wounds of Christ'. They can be seen on the doublet.

Area that might contain signature on the collar. The star at the right has six points all the others have only four. Is this a star of Mary, a catholic symbol?

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