LONDON A heritage group said Monday it had uncovered a 300-year-old portrait of English playwright William Shakespeare, saying it believed it was the only authentic image of him made during his life.
Up to now only two images have been accepted as authentic representations of what the most famous English writer may have looked like; both painted posthumously and based on recollections around 1623.
The recently discovered portrait, however, was painted in 1610, six years before Shakespeare's death, and when he would have been aged 46, according to Paul Edmondson of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
His theory is supported by evidence found through x-ray examination and infra red reflectography analysis of the painting and its panel.
The most striking thing about the portrait is that Shakespeare has a fuller head of hair than in the images previously displayed.
The portrait has been in the Cobbe family for generations. The family is distantly related to Shakespeare's only known literary patron, Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton.
Its owner Alec Cobbe, visited the National Portrait Gallery exhibition "Searching for Shakespeare" in London in 2006 where he saw a painting that had once been accepted as a life portrait of the English poet and realized that this was a copy of the portrait in his family collection.
The portrait will be part of the Shakespeare Found exhibition in Stratford-upon-Avon from 23 April to 6 September 2009.
(Reporting by Petra Spescha; editing by Keith Weir and Paul Casciato)