Manchester Art Gallery

Othello, the Moor of Venice

Object description

Half length frontal portrait of Ira Aldridge, celebrated nineteenth century black actor, in the role of Othello. He is dressed in a white wrapper-like garment of which the striped coral-and-white sash is just visible at the bottom of the picture. He has a white lace neckerchief. His eyes look to the left. The plain dark grey background is paler behind his head than it is in the corners of the painting. His close-cropped, parted hair is therefore silhouetted.

Display label

Othello the Moor of Venice 1826 James Northcote 1746 - 1831 Oil on canvas This portrait shows the actor Ira Aldridge (1807-67) in the character of the jealous Moor, Othello, from Shakespeare's play. Aldridge first came to Manchester in 1827, appearing at the Theatre Royal, then in Fountain Street. A black actor was seen as a 'singular novelty' then and Aldridge's performances were acclaimed. Although from New York, Aldridge forged a distinguished career as a Shakespearian actor in Britain and Europe. This painting was the first purchase by the Royal Manchester Institution (RMI). Northcote had painted it shortly after Aldridge had been appearing as Othello on stage in London, and the RMI purchased it after Aldridge starred in the same role in 1827 in Manchester. Transferred from the Royal Manchester Institution 1882.2