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Richard Burbage

British SchoolEarly 17th century

Dulwich Picture Gallery

Dulwich Picture Gallery
London, United Kingdom

Richard Burbage, the leading actor in the Lord Chamberlain’s Company (which became the King’s Men), built the Globe Theatre and played a series of leading roles there in plays by his contemporaries Shakespeare, Jonson and others.

This is the only known image of him, identified by William Cartwright in a hand-written list as ‘Mr Burbig his head...’. Cartwright’s father was also an actor, and must have known Burbage - it seems a reliable identification. This, then, is the face of the first Richard III, Hamlet, Lear and Othello, the most significant actor before Garrick.

The work’s conservation has revealed a more colourful background, and a blonde tint to his hair.

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  • Title: Richard Burbage
  • Date: Early 17th century
  • Physical Dimensions: w262 x h303 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil
  • Work Nationality: British
  • Support: Canvas
  • School: British School
  • Provenance: London, William Cartwright (inventory no. 105: 'mr burbig his headÉ'); Cartwright Bequest, 1686.
  • Further Information: "Richard Burbage (1568-1619): became the leading actor in the Lord Chamberlain's Company (subsequently the King's Men); inherited shares in the Blackfriars Theatre and 'the Theatre' in Shoreditch in 1597. He demolished the Shoreditch theatre and used the materials to construct the Globe Theatre, where he played a succession of leading roles in plays by Shakespeare, Jonson, and Beaumont and Fletcher, originating the roles of Richard III, Hamlet, Lear and Othello, among others. The odd shape of the portrait is due less to a slight reduction in the size of the canvas than to the fact that the head has been painted, probably from life, to be sewn into a larger canvas. This practice allowed the painter to work away from the studio. The fact that this painting has never been inserted in a larger canvas suggests either that the image became redundant-through being painted just before the sitter's death, for instance-or that the painter was dissatisfied with this work. "
  • Acquisition Method: Cartwright, William (Bequest, 1686)

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