When you picture William Shakespeare, the image that likely comes to mind is the Chandos Portrait—the most famous portrait of the Bard and the only one known to have been painted during his lifetime, reports Smithsonian. But that doesn't mean it looks exactly like him, at least in its current state. Likely painted between 1600 and 1610, the portrait—named for its former owner, the Duke of Chandos—has been scuffed and scrubbed over centuries so that only a thin layer of paint now remains, reports the Art Newspaper. It's in such poor shape that the National Portrait Gallery in London, where the painting is held, is considering cleaning it, which could drastically change our vision of Shakespeare.
Not only would a cleaning remove a layer of discolored varnish on the painting—restoring its original, vibrant hue—but it might also remove alterations made by early restorers. For example, it's known that Shakespeare's beard and hair were lengthened at some point, though the painting hasn't been significantly restored since at least 1856, when it first arrived at the National Portrait Gallery. "The original restored works can look very different. You could get a dramatic revelation," says a member of the Fine Art Restoration Company, per Newsweek. The gallery's trustees, who must also consider whether a restoration could damage the fragile painting, plan to decide on its treatment next year. (Shakespeare's grave is missing his skull.)