A three quarter length portrait of the playwright William Shakespeare standing beside an ornately carved wooden desk to the left. One of the desk draws is open revealing a red lining. Shakepeare’s right hand rests on the desk and in it he holds a single stem of flowers. His left arm is by his side. He is dressed in a black with white lace collar and cuffs. The jacket is slashed either side of the buttons at the front and on the sleeves, revealing red fabric underneath. On the desk are Shakespeare’s sources of inspiration – books by Chaucer, Boccaccio and Montaigne, Plutarch’s Lives and The Gesta Romanorum. Above the books to the left is a glass vase of flowers behind which is a tapestry. On the tapestry there is a figure blowing a trumpet between the masks of Comedy and Tragedy. The figure also holds a laurel wreath to symbolise fame. Within the wreath is a coat of arms containing a spear as a pun on the playwright’s name.
Gallery text panel The Pre-Raphaelites in their Time Britain's first and best-known radical art movement emerged from within the Royal Academy in 1848. Its original members were rebellious art students who were disillusioned with contemporary practice. They looked back to Italian art before Raphael, seeing the pre-1500 period as one of great sincerity. They called themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. In an age of rapid industrial and urban expansion, Pre-Raphaelite artists like Rossetti, Hunt and Millais, and pioneering design reformers such as William Morris, sought a return to pre-industrial values of art and design in truth to nature and materials, and good workmanship. In addition, the arts of the Middle Ages and Middle East were important sources of stylistic inspiration. The Bible, literature and contemporary life were preferred over subjects derived from classical mythology. The Brotherhood also rejected contrived studio lighting and took canvases outside to paint directly from nature. Although attempting to convey exactly what they saw, they created a heightened reality of dream-like intensity with minute details and bright, dazzling colours. Their art was a new kind of history painting for a new age.
Canvas: 135.6cm x 87.5cm
Frame: 178cm x 128.9cm
Place of creation
© Manchester Art Gallery