Fiona Winrow is a Volunteer Learning Assistant and Volunteer Steward at the museum. She has selected one of her highlights of the museum collection, and has unearthed an interesting story about this stunning bronze and marble sculpture of Othello.
The subject of Italian sculptor Pietro Calvi’s bust in the Moorish Alcove is rather interesting, as I found out by chance.
The likeness is said to be of Ira Frederick Aldridge, an African/American actor famous for his portrayal of Othello in the late 19th Century. Aldridge, the son of a liberated slave, was born in 1807 in Manhatten, New York.
He grew up inspired by Shakespeare, but faced prejudice when he became an actor. Aged 17, he embarked on a boat to Britain. Saying he was the son of a Senegalese Prince, his stage debut was in Coventry.
He performed Othello to sell out audiences, who considered him a great actor with a thrilling voice. He then travelled throughout Europe where he also found fame and additionally addressed the audiences on slavery and prejudice.
In 1881, Aldridge became the first black actor to perform at Stratford. His success and fame have inspired black actors since and still acknowledged today. Calvi must also have been inspired by Aldridge to portray him as ‘Moro di Venezia’ in two versions of his bronze and marble bust.
Othello can be found on display in the Moorish Alcove at the Russell-Cotes.