This sentence caught my eye in yesterday’s International Herald Tribune:
Wells said that compared with the Cobbe portrait, the other representations now thought to be copies of it presented “an inanimate mask” of Shakespeare and that the discovery of the Cobbe painting would lead to a new generation of Shakespeare scholarship, driven by the realization that Shakespeare was more handsome, more fashionable, and more wealthy than previously believed.
The sentence appears in one version of Pulitzer Prize-winner John F. Burns’s reporting on the apparent (or possible, or contested) appearance of a “new” portrait of the Bard of Avon. If you haven’t seen the painting, it’s very lovely indeed, and surely does differ from the hydrocephalic fellow we’ve come to know and love. So said, the notion that a new generation of Shakespeare scholarship would be driven in a different direction by the “realization” that Shakespeare was “more handsome, more fashionable and more wealthy than previously believed” is drop-and-roll ridiculous. The number of idiotic assumptions that underlie such a statement (not Burns’s but, apparently, Wells’s) is hard to calculate, but their nature isn’t hard to characterize: we learn about art from artists (not from art).