In 1953, an Elizabethan portrait materialized, somewhat mysteriously, during a renovation at Marlowe's college, Corpus Christi, Cambridge.  It was dated 1585.  It bears a Latin inscription, "AETATIS SVAE 21" testifying that the young man portrayed, the sitter, was 21 years of age.  Some damage had been sustained, but the sitter's face, dress and posture was clear enough to make restoration feasible.  The portrait bore a Latin motto or trope long associated with the works of Marlowe and, later, Shakespeare, "Ouod me Nutrit me Destruit," variously translated as "that which nourishes me destroys me" or "destroyed by what nourishes me."  

    The condition of the portrait, the fact it seems to have been "hidden" or removed from view and lost, its age and the motto all lend itself to the conclusion that it is of Corpus Christi's most famous scholar, Christopher Marlowe.  Like the sitter, he was 21 in 1585, the year he received his BA.  Also like the sitter, whose hands are concealed from view, Marlowe was a professional keeper of secretes.   A diplomat or a "spy." While other scholars were required to wear the costume of scholars, Marlowe who worked for Her Majesty's Secret Service, was, like the sitter, allowed, or rather required, to wear velvet and silks.  Not only was Marlowe 21 in 1585, the other scholars in his class would have been several years younger than Christopher, since he had entered at the King's School at the upper cusp of the statutory limited.  Most of his fellow scholars were three or four years his junior. Moreover he alone of Corpus Christi students had undergone a significant reversal of fortune, which would have required the removal of his portrait.  The most suggestive connection of all is the motto or trope.  Its not a common one and shows itself to have been the invention of the sitter.  It appears, in various garbs, in all (or nearly all) of the works of Marlowe and, for those who believe them separate writers, curiously, throughout  the works of Shakespeare as well.  

    For example a version of it is to be found in the Timon, ms.,  later the source of Shakespeare's play Timon of Athens.  There it is woven into a song hummed by Timon which runs, "with ink that's blacke on paper white, both morning noon and eke at night,  my life, my fate, my death endite."  The manuscript has been proven young Marlowe's and seems to have been transcribed at Corpus Christi College early in 1580.( The Timon of Athens Manuscript ) A version of it opens the Sonnets, "But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes, Feeds'st thy light's flame with self-substantial fuel.." (1, 5-6).  Sonnet 73 has it again in clearer English, "consum'd with that whichit was nourish'd by," and will be found, writ large, in the other plays and poems said Shakespeare's or Marlowe's, as for example, in 1 Henry VI, where it is appears as, "Glory is like a circle in the water Which never ceaseth to enlarge itself Till by broad spreading it disperse to nought." (I,ii, 132-5)  

    In the anonymous Kentish play, The Murder of Master Arden or Arden of Faversham it finds a similar expression, in the same act and scene, "a woman's love is as the lightning flame, Which even in bursting forth consumes itself." (I, ii, 28/9)  In Edward II, Marlowe causes the dying king to cry "I am that cedar," having first described a tree eaten alive with it's own rot.  In Dido and again in Tamburlaine the leading figures die from the loss of their lovers, Dido burning herself alive on Aenaeus' left behinds, while Tamburlaine, not to be out done, dies on Zenocrate's hearse.  In the sequel to Marlowe's Edward II, the anonymous, Edward III, it's woven into a trope that appears on a heraldic shield on the colors displayed at Bretagene by Salisbury's army, "A pelican, my lord, Wounding her bosom with her crooked beak, that so her nest of young ones may be fed With drops of blood that issue from her heart." III,v.  A.D. Wraight has proven that Edward III contains a scene based on intelligence young Marlowe gathered during the Armada battle, even naming the ship upon which he served, the Nonpareil.   Intelligence from Marlowe's assignment to Arbella Stuart winds up in 1 Henry VI, suppressed for thirty years or more to protect his identity.   Similar intelligence from Marlowe's knowledge of Scottish affairs has been shown in Edward II  and later in Hamlet, Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth and Cymbeline.  

    As Wraight noted in her study, In Search for Christopher Marlowe, scholars have a list of similar portraits from the Master’s Lodge cataloged in the late 1880s. Three, of the nine subjects listed, were of Elizabethan students, two of whom were unknown. The known one is of Sir Robert Cecil, who overlapped with Marlowe, and thus must have known him, particularly since their portraits adorned the same wall. Two of the portraits were of Matthew Parker, who occupied the Master’s Lodge not long before Marlowe arrived at Corpus Christi and whose scholarship paid for Marlowe’s education. One of the unknown student's portrait’s was dated "1579 Aetatis suae 23" and remains otherwise unidentified. It is, in all likelihood, that of Nicholas Faunt, Marlowe’s predecessor at Corpus Christi, and one of the first recipients of the Parker Scholarship. Faunt became famous first as Sir Francis Walsingham’s under-secretary and later as Lord Burghley’s and after that as Bacon’s aid-de-camp. Faunt was eight year’s Marlowe’s senior, which would have made him 23 in 1579. Faunt graduated MA from Corpus Christi in 1579 and became Walsingham’s secretary late that year or early in 1580. (Nicholl, 119) Faunt’s background, by the way, was nearly as humble as Marlowe, Faunt’s father having been the "singing man" at the Cathedral in Canterbury and Nicholas having attended the King’s School, even while he was working for Walsingham, since Sir Francis tasted him to carry his message of the St Bartholomew Massacre back to Queen Elizabeth I. in his young head. (Read, DNB) So it would have been quite natural for the Master to have had Marlowe’s portrait in that room also. 

    Wraight who worked her way through nearly all of this in her book In Search of Christopher Marlowe, failed only to note the destruction of the portrait is actually proof positive it was Marlowe’s. No one would have destroyed a painting of such obvious quality and value, unless there was a compelling rationale. Wraight cites, as president, the case of Henry Butts, who was Master in 1632. Butts portrait was removed "from the dinning hall at Corpus Christi," when he became temporarily insane.  It was, however, carefully preserved. So a century later, it was restored to his old chambers. Meanwhile Marlowe’s had been plastered over, not to be rediscovered until 1953, oddly the same numerals as the date of his death or disappearance almost hour hundred years earlier, i.e., 1593.

    All in all its nearly certain the portrait at Cambridge was that of young Christopher Marlowe, then "the realm's highest mind."

Restored Portrait in Black and White  In Color.  The cropping cut off the Latin phrase AETATIS SAVE 21.

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