Ira Aldridge: Theatrical Trailblazer

Pietro Calvi (Italian, 1833–1884)
ca. 1873
marble and bronze, approx. 3458 × 22116 × 221316 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.

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