Film Explores History, Controversy of Shakespeare Portrait

March 24, 2009 - News Release

A new movie that tells the story of the Sanders portrait, believed by many to be the only portrait of William Shakespeare painted while he was alive, will have its Guelph premiere March 28 at 4 p.m. at the Bookshelf.

The screening of Battle of Wills will be followed by a panel discussion featuring University of Guelph English professor Daniel Fischlin; portrait owner Lloyd Sullivan, a friend and supporter of U of G; and film director Anne Henderson. Tickets are $10 general, $5 for students, and are available at the door.

Battle of Wills covers the science, history and controversy of the Sanders portrait, which is thought to depict the Bard at age 39. Sullivan inherited the painting from his mother in 1972. It's believed that Shakespeare sat for an ancestor of Sullivan's, an unknown actor and painter called John Sanders, in 1603. The portrait was held in the family for 400 years and at one time was stored under Sullivan's grandmother's bed. The portrait has been confirmed by six years of painstaking forensic studies to date from around 1600, and it has not been altered since.

The portrait was the centrepiece of a five-month-long exhibit at Guelph's Macdonald Stewart Art Centre and a regional Shakespeare festival in the spring of 2007. It's also the signature image of U of G's Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project (CASP), which was founded and directed by Fischlin and includes the largest and most complete website in the world dedicated to showing Shakespeare’s cultural influence.

Fischlin learned about the Sanders portrait while he and his research team were travelling across the country to uncover original Canadian adaptations of Shakespeare for their project. He was instrumental in bringing the portrait to Guelph and has been helping to confirm some of the historical connections that substantiate the authenticity of the portrait.

The Sanders portrait was also part of “Searching for Shakespeare,” an international exhibit organized by the National Portrait Gallery in London, England. The Sanders portrait joined the gallery's famous Chandos painting and four portraits purporting to represent Shakespeare. It was also the subject of the 2001 book Shakespeare's Face and is used by the Stratford Festival of Canada.

Battle of Wills, Fischlin and Sullivan were also featured in an weekend news article that ran in the London newspaper, The Sunday Times.

For media questions, contact U of G Communications and Public Affairs Lori Bona Hunt at Ext. 53338,, or Barry Gunn, Ext. 56982 or

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