Mr. Ira Aldridge as Aaron

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Mr. Ira Aldridge as Aaron

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Portrait of Ira Aldridge, full-length, slightly turned to the left, holding a scimitar in one hand, dressed as Aaron from "Titus Andronicus" in a fur-trimmed belted tunic and a cloak. He wears a turban on his head and sandals on his feet. The interior shows a marble column and a vase. The portrait is framed with floral decoration with a vulture looks at its chick at the top. The illustration reads' 'Drawing Room Table-Book of Theatrical Portraits.'

The portrait depicts the famous Moorish villain from Shakespeare's play. The vulture looking greedily at the crown symbolizes Aaron's ambition, which also motivates his revenge. The classical interior reflects the nineteenth-century archaeological fervor. Aaron's costume, however, conflates his identity with Turks, who were often dressed in turban and sandal on the stage. This costume suggests the insufficient literacy of the British people with the cultural "other."

Ira Aldridge, one of the first black actors on the British stage, gained great popularity and success during his theatrical career. He is an obvious choice for the character of Aaron, as Moors are often portrayed as "black" in drama. This casting, however, also perpetuates radicalized stereotypes consolidating the attribute of blackness through visual representations on stage.

Entry by Cen Liu

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    William Paine
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    Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license
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    British Museum