Ira Aldridge: Theatrical Trailblazer
Pietro Calvi (Italian, 1833–1884)
marble and bronze, approx. 345⁄8 × 221⁄16 × 2213⁄16 in.
This life-size bust represents Othello, holding his wife’s handkerchief at the moment he realizes that she is innocent. Note the tear on his cheek. At a time when nineteenth-century artworks in the “orientalist” or “ethnographic” tradition often depicted Asian or African people as exotic, lazy, or savage types, Calvi produced a thoughtful, emotional portrait of an individual. Although it was crafted shortly after Aldridge’s death, it was almost certainly inspired by Aldridge. Aldridge’s image had circulated widely in print; he was famous across Europe as the pre-eminent African-American actor and most recognizable actor to play Othello.