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Painting - Ira Aldridge as Othello in 'Othello' by William Shakespeare
  • Ira Aldridge as Othello in 'Othello' by William Shakespeare
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Ira Aldridge as Othello in 'Othello' by William Shakespeare

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain, Uk (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1848 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    unknown (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on canvas

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Professor Herbert Marshall

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Theatre & Performance, room 106b, case 6, shelf A

This painting depicts Ira Aldridge (1807-1867) in his most famous role, Othello. The painter is unknown - most likely of the British School - but the painting itself is unusual in depicting Othello on the stage, as opposed to treating it in a purely literary fashion.

Aldridge made his London debut as Othello at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden in 1833. Barely two weeks after the death of Kean, who had played Othello on the very same stage, Aldridge was forced to circulate handbills defending his adoption of Kean's part. He had doubtless traded on Kean's reputation as early as 1825 nevertheless, when he appeared at the Coburg Theatre (the Old Vic) in the lead role of Thomas Southern's play Oronooko, The Royal Slave, billed as 'Mr. Keene'.

Some papers protested about a black actor being permitted to appear at Covent Garden, and the tone of their reviews the next day was somewhat sullen, partially due to the perceived appropriation of Kean's role. Unable to criticise a good performance outright, The Morning Post grudgingly conceded: 'it was doubtless sufficiently good to be considered very curious'. This was balanced by the many other publications which declared Aldridge: 'a singularly gifted actor'(The Standard), with: 'beauties throughout his performance' (The Globe), who: 'evinced a great deal of feeling and nature in his performance' (The Spectator).

Physical description

Ira Aldridge appearing onstage as Othello, wearing a black, light blue and gold costume with African influences. He is holding a curved sword in one hand and is pointing with the other, and wears an unusual headress. There is an indistinct figure sitting in the background.

Place of Origin

Great Britain, Uk (made)


ca. 1848 (painted)


unknown (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Oil on canvas


Height: 42.8 cm, Width: 34.4 cm

Descriptive line

Portrait entitled Ira Aldridge as Othello in 'Othello' by William Shakespeare, unknown artist, ca. 1848

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Ashton, Geoffrey. Catalogue of Paintings at the Theatre Museum, London. ed. James Fowler, London : Victoria and Albert Museum, 1992. 224p. ill. ISBN 1851771026

Exhibition History

Theatre and Performance (Victoria and Albert Museum, Galleries 103 -106 01/01/2009-31/12/2009)

Labels and date

7 Ira Aldridge as Othello
About 1848

Pictured here in the role that made him famous, Aldridge (1807–61) was an African American who came to Britain aged 17. He made his London debut as a ‘Gentleman of Colour’, a title reflecting the rarity of black actors in Britain at that time. He took over Othello from the mortally ill Edmund Kean in 1833 and went on to find fame in mainland Europe.
Play by William Shakespeare, 1604
Theatre Royal Covent Garden, London
Oil on canvas
Artist unknown

Given by Herbert Marshall
Museum no. S.1129-1986
[March 2009]


Canvas; Oil colour


Painting (image making)

Subjects depicted

Othello; Aldridge, Ira


Paintings; Entertainment & Leisure

Collection code


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