Experts believe they have solved a mystery surrounding one of the most famous portraits of William Shakespeare.

Art historians have disagreed about the origins of The Flower Portrait. Owned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, the painting bears the inscription 1609. But not everyone has been convinced that the portrait was from Shakespeare's lifetime.

Now experts at the National Portrait Gallery have confirmed that it is a fake.

Through scientific analysis, they have discovered that it dates back to the early 19th century.

The portrait was named after its owner, Sir Desmond Flower, who donated it to the Royal Shakespeare Company. The image is painted on top of a 16th century portrait of Madonna and Child.

It took four months of analysis to uncover the true history behind the painting.

Scholars used a combination of X-ray techniques, ultraviolet examination, paint sampling tests and microphotography to seek out its origins.

Dr Tarnya Cooper, 16th century curator at the gallery, said: "We uncovered a chrome yellow paint, which dates from about 1814, embedded in the portrait.

"We now think the portrait dates back to between 1818 to 1840, the time when there was a resurgence of interest in Shakespeare's plays."

The image bears a strong resemblance to the Droeshout Engraving, which accompanied the first folio of Shakespeare's plays.