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NATIONAL: Shakespeare or not? That is the question.

Studies of a little-known London bust and a 17th century death mask from Germany show that, measure for measure, they portray the same person - William Shakespeare, it was claimed yesterday.

Forensic imaging techniques have shown that the Davenant bust, housed in London's Garrick Club, matches pictures of the bard.

The bust's facial features, in turn, coincide with those of the death mask owned by the German city of Darmstadt, say researchers.

Shakespeare died aged 52 in 1616, the same year inscribed into the back of the mask, which was discovered in 1842.

However, leading scholars have doubted its authenticity.

Likewise, academics have dismissed the bust as an accurate likeness because they believed it had been made 142 years after his death.

The new research used forensic tests employed by the Germany's equivalent of the FBI to compare the bust with an engraving and two paintings widely believed to be of Shakespeare. They included the famous Chandos portrait, the first picture bought by the National Portrait Gallery in 1856.

A technique used by police to show whether separate facial images belong to the same person yielded close matches around the eyes, nose, and lips of the paintings and the bust. Engineers from the imaging company Konica Minolta then scanned the bust and the death mask with lasers to build 3D computer models.

British experts remain to be convinced, however.

Catherine Alexander, from the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon, argues that the results are based on a "false premise".

Many representations of Elizabethan men were "spruced up" to make them look intelligent and rich, she told New Scientist.

CAPTION(S):

A composite image of William Shakespeare, matching his funerary bust (left) with the "Davenant" bust
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 23, 2006
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