Titian’s Painting of “Venus and Adonis” – Reason No. 13 Why Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

"Venus and Adonis" by Titian, the painting that "Shakespeare" must have seen in Venice

VENUS AND ADONIS

By William Shakespeare

He sees her coming and begins to glow…

And with his bonnet hides his angry brow…

For all askance he holds her in his eye

Now was she just before him as he sat,

And like a lowly lover down she kneels…

O what a war of looks was then between them!

"Great Oxford," the collection of essays from the De Vere Society, with its cover in reference to Dr. Noemi Magri's article about the Titian painting

Her eyes petitioners to his eyes suing,

His eyes saw her eyes as they had not seen them;

Her eyes wooed still, his eyes disdained the wooing;

And all this dumb play had his acts made plain…

Some time her arms infold him like a band.

She would, he will not in her arms be bound…

For shame, he cries, let go and let me go.

Lines 337-342; 225-6; 349-350; 355-360; 379

(My emphases in italics)

The author of Venus and Adonis by “William Shakespeare” (1593) describes a painting by Tiziano Vecellio, or Titian, in which Adonis wears a bonnet or cap.

This was the only Titian painting with that detail and, during Shakespeare’s time, it could have been seen only at Titian’s home in Venice. 

William of Stratford had never left England, but Edward de Vere the 17th Earl of Oxford had traveled throughout Italy during 1575-1576 (at age twenty-five), making his home base in Venice, where Titian worked until his death on August 27, 1576.

I continue to be struck by the simplicity and clarity of this piece of factual evidence presented in an article by the brilliant scholar Dr. Noemi Magri in Great Oxford: Essays on the Life and Works of Edward de Vere (2004), a collection of papers from the De Vere Society in England.

Tizanio Vecellio, known as Titian (1488?-1576), whose home in Venice was a mecca for princes, ambassadors, cardinals, artists and literary men

In her essay, entitled The Influence of Italian Renaissance Art on Shakespeare’s Works; Titian’s Barberini Painting: the Pictorial Source of “Venus and Adonis,” Dr. Magri writes that Titian made many replicas of his work and that Shakespeare based his poem on the only autographed replica in which Adonis wears a bonnet or hat:

“Titian’s painting was his source of inspiration, the thing that stimulated him to write a poem about this subject though he also had a thorough knowledge of Ovid … Shakespeare describes the painting in detail: he portrays the painting in words and the description is too faithful to ascribe it to mere coincidence…

“It is evident that Shakespeare’s Adonis is wearing a hat, a bonnet.  The mention of the bonnet is not coincidental.  This is the detail here taken as evidence of the pictorial source.”

With one fair hand she heaveth up his hat – line 351

Bonnet nor veil henceforth no creature wear – line 1081

And therefore would he put his bonnet on – line 1087

Princes, cardinals, ambassadors and the like, as well as top literary figures, “never failed to pay Titian a visit” when they came to Venice, Dr. Magri notes.   His home was a kind of cultural center and such notables felt they could not leave without going to see the man who was the greatest painter of sixteenth-century Venice and, too, the first to have a mainly international clientele.  To be received into his house was an honor that brought them high prestige.

A drawing of Titian's house in Venice by Joseph Cadorin (1833) -- in Canciano S. Biri

“Considering de Vere’s desire for learning and his love for Italian culture, he must have felt the wish to meet him and admire his collection,” writes Dr. Magri.

(She provides evidence to confirm that the autographed copy with Adonis wearing a hat, now held in the National Gallery of Palazzo Barberini in Rome, was in fact at Titian’s house during the same time Oxford was in Venice.)

Anyone who studies even a little of Oxford’s life will conclude that he could not have failed to pay such a visit.

In the lines above, Shakespeare writes that Adonis looks at Venus all askance, which, Dr. Magri observes, “is a faithful and precise description of Adonis’ posture in the painting.”  Moreover their glances are “the central motif of the painting” and Shakespeare “has retained the dramatic pictorial element” in his description of their eyes such as “Her eyes petitioners to his eyes suing,” etc.

Also Shakespeare’s reference to all this dumb play is an accurate description: the play they have performed “is a dumb one since their words are not to be heard.”  The two protagonists, Venus and Adonis, “are not acting on a stage: they are painted on the canvas.”

Another by Titian -- without the hat

Dr. Magri even notes how Venus, reacting angrily to Adonis’s resistance, bursts out a clear reference to the painted image of him:

Fie, lifeless picture, cold and senseless stone

Well-painted idol...

So that’s Reason No. 13 why I believe Oxford was “Shakespeare.”   Oxford was there, in Venice, and so was Titian and the painting with the bonnet, or hat, that “Shakespeare” describes in Venus and Adonis.

We welcome any Stratfordian to comment and present us with a counterargument.

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Dear Mr. Whittemore,

    Could you, please, forward the comments below to Mr. Altrocci, whose e-mail I have been unable to find on the Web? Thank you. As you will see, “The Spanish Tragedy” confirms PT theory I and your interpretation of the Sonnets once more.

    Dear Mr. Altrocci,

    As I have been reading “The Spanish Tragedy,” I have found an evidence that link this work to your article on The Persian Portrait for Shakespeare Matters.

    In the Persian Portrait there are three sentences in latin.

    These sentences and their same meaning are written in “The Spanish Tragedy” (2, ii, 30-70).

    When Horatio is with Bel-imperia and tell her that he is Cupid and she is Venus, comes Lorenzo and Balthazar and hang him in the arbour. The Revel Student Edition inform us that this hanging of Horatio is important for in the 1615 edition the woodcut on the title page shows a trellis-like arbour, adorned with ‘leaves’, arched at the top, not wide, but quite deep, and high enough that Horatio can be hanged in it.

    Now, when his father Hieronimo comes and see his son hanged, this is what happens:

    “A man hanged up (…)
    This place was made for pleasure not for death.
    (…)
    Sweet lovely rose, ill-plucked before thy time,
    Fair worthy son, not conquered but betrayed,
    I’ll kiss thee now, for words with tears are stayed.
    (…)

    O aliquis MIHI quas pulchrum VER EDUCAT herbas
    (…)
    Misceat, et nostro detur MEDICINA DOLORI. (My emphasis)

    Compare with the latin sentences of the Persian Portrait:

    -Mea sic mihi.

    -Dolor est medicina ed tori.

    Now, “ed tori” seem, as you say, “ed-uca-tori” for in “The Spanish Tragedy” we have the same “educat” with “ver” and “medicina dolori.

    “The Spanish Tragedy” gives us more evidences for the Persian Portrait.

    Regards…,

    Ricardo Mena.

  2. I’m sure you don’t mean to use the “Cadorin” image as any supporting evidence of your view. It cannot be a view of Titian’s house in Venice (note hills and landscape in background); it may, however, be a fanciful recreation of a characteristic dwelling in the area of Cadore, Titian’s home. While Titian had a garden at his Venetian property and it faced the terra firma, not even a 19th-c. Romantic artist would have imagined that background. An interesting connection between text and image.

    • Thanks for the information — obviously I took a chance with it. If you go to google images and put a search on “titian’s house” you get an array of them. If you find one that you think is accurate, let us know and I’ll try to post it up. Thanks again.

  3. Perhaps, in Titian’s : http://tinyurl.com/npsk3ql

    “Venere e Ad[O]n[E]”

    Oxford saw an analogy/anagram:

    “Anne de Vere / [E.O.]”

    • Thanks, Art, and good to hear from you.
      By the way, I’m working on The Taming of a Shrew (1594) and The Taming of the Shrew as by Shakespeare, and was interested in your take on Don Christo Vary in the earlier version. Can you make plain that this was Oxford referring to himself?
      I’d love to have your input and to be able to quote you in the piece when written.

  4. Very interesting article. It is far more likely that Shakespeare saw the Venus and Adonis by Titian that is now in England in Hatchlands House , Cobbe Collection. The Barberini painting is entirely a workshop painting, and was probably in storage at Titian’s studio whereas the Cobbe picture is totally autograph and was also in Titian’s possession until his death, and is truly an important painting, not just a replica. In this painting Adonis also wears a bonnet , although more of a helmet than a hat.


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