- By CATHY BURKE
- NEW YORK POST, September 6, 2010
That was the question for scientists who, over the howls of fans, put together a computer likeness of William Shakespeare — complete with sunken eyes, wrinkled skin and the sallow look of a man dying of cancer.
But whether the Bard would have approved — or scoffed at what fools these mortals be — the warts-and-all picture is not only startling but wildly different than previous paintings, engravings and busts of him. The new likeness was taken from a death mask found in Germany in the 1840s and linked to Shakespeare through tests that bolstered a theory that the Bard died of cancer in 1616.
The 3-D likeness will be featured Sept. 13 in a History Channel documentary titled «Death Masks.»
«The results from this forensic examination . . . show strong evidence, both forensically and historically, that this 3-D model may be, in fact, the way Shakespeare looked in life,» documentary director Stuart Clarke told The Daily Mail newspaper of London.
«Breakthroughs in computer imaging mean we may have to rewrite the history books on Shakespeare.»
The TV documentary will report that the Shakespeare mask was found in the city of Darmstadt and that German scientists linked it to Shakespeare after carrying out a series of tests.
They claim that the mask showing a gaunt face proves Shakespeare suffered from cancer at the end of his life.
What the Bard looked like has been speculated about for centuries.
He has been most famously portrayed with dark-brown, reddish or black hair billowing down to his ear lobes or shoulders and with a carefully trimmed mustache and receding hairline.
Other images show him with a closely cropped beard.
But the earliest known image of him, a 1623 portrait, shows Will clean-shaven, and a memorial bust of the playwright and poet in Stratford-upon-Avon suggests he may even have had a little suntan, according to one British expert.
There’s «a large number of consistencies» between the 3-D image and portraits, forensic anthropologist Caroline Wilkinson told The Daily Mail.
Wilkinson is an expert on the subject. She once digitally reconstructed a 3,800-year-old Egyptian mummy that had been put through a CT scanner. With just a few mouse clicks, she told the BBC, she peered through the sarcophagus, wrappings and tissues to the bone beneath.
But Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Chairman Stanley Welles bristled at the claims that this was the face of the Bard.
«Shakespeare was not a national figure at the time, not in the way he is today, and it is unlikely a mask like this would have been made,» he said.
Other 3-D likenesses generated by the scientists using the same technology include those of Napoleon, Julius Caesar, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
The recreations are all based on scans taken from death masks, and in some cases, masks made during life.
Napoleon’s digital visage was so different from popular depictions that it shocked the French people, The Daily Mail reported.
And Washington’s was a far cry from the image on the dollar bill.
The History Channel show’s producers said the images «challenge viewers’ perceptions of what some of history’s most famous figures looked like.»
Another of the channel’s foray into creating 3-D historical images aired last March, when it featured the 3-D gadgetry that put together a likeness of Jesus — and showed a graphic look at Christ with his face and torso bloodied and bruised.
For that program, computer artist Ray Downing of Studio MacBeth explained the 3-D technique.
«We ‘lifted’ the blood» from the Shroud of Turin, he said, and «isolated it [on the computer] so it would sit ‘in air,’ » on a transparent background.
Downing told The Daily Mail his technique of computer imaging uncovered the substance that created the image on the shroud — and enabled him to see the actual face of Jesus.