Robert Alexander (attr.) HillingfordEngland 1828-1904
Othello and Desdemona 44.0821
In this painting the newlywed Desdemona pleads with her husband, the military hero Othello, to reinstate his lieutenant, Cassio. Her maid Emilia and Emilia's husband Iago watch from a curtained doorway. The furnished chamber is full of accessories borrowed from 17th-century Dutch genre painting. The costumes are a combination of late 16th-century and imaginary Ottoman clothing. Elizabethans thought of Othello as African, or as a Moor (African and Arab). Hillingford portrays him as Arab, which was not uncommon in 19th-century performances of the play. Although the signature of Jean-Léon Gérôme appears on the back of the chair to the right, it is believed it was added to the painting before 1927 by someone wishing to assign the painting to a more well-known artist. Recent research on the painting has suggested Hillingford as the likely artist. Hillingford was one of many practitioners of the new genre of anecdotal history painting (painting of history fused with genre painting/scenes of everyday life) in the 19th century and drew much of his subject matter from British and French history. He studied painting in Düsseldorf, Munich, and Italy, returning to England in 1864. During the 1860s and 1870s, Hillingford painted many scenes from Shakespeare's plays and exhibited at least three works based on the play Othello, two of which date to 1869.
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