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Monday, October 07, 2013

Ben Jonson

The portrait above, on view at London National Portrait Gallery, is a copy with unknown author and unknown date, after an original seemingly lost. All we know is that the original was painted by Flemish master Abraham van Blyenberch (or Blijenberch), by 1617.

A towering literary figure during his lifetime, and throughout most of 17th century, Ben Jonson had a diminished status during the following two hundred years, being unfairly compared and contrasted to Shakespeare. The appreciation of Ben Jonson rose again in the 20th century, and today he enjoys his well deserved place in the gallery of the greatest English authors.

His best known portrait kept only in copy, his posthumous status diminished for a long period of time, it's right to say that fate was unfair with this important dramatist and poet. And this is not all. Here is the story, as told by Helene Hanff in her Q's Legacy: when Ben Jonson died he had a fine funeral and the mourners went home and left Ben to be buried in a crypt under Westminster Abbey floor; but the grave-diggers knew Ben hadn't paid for it, and they weren't going to waste valuable grave space on a deadbeat; so they opened the crypt and slid Ben in, upright, and propped him in a corner, and so he remained in the grave, upright; even the memorial plaque, put later, misspelled Ben's name (plus that O RARE meaning probably ORARE - between O and R a space in the wrong place):

no copyright infringement intended

(A Life in Books)

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