“Desdemona” by Frederic Leighton
“Desdemona” by Frederic Leighton depicts the Venetian beauty from William Shakespeare’s play Othello which was written in 1601 – 1604.
Desdemona’s story starts when she enrages her father, a Venetian senator, when she elopes with Othello. Othello is a brave soldier of Moorish background in the service of the Venetian Republic, but several years her senior.
When Othello is deployed to Cyprus in the service of the Republic of Venice, Desdemona accompanies him. His ensign then manipulates her husband into believing she is an adulteress.
Othello has its source in a 1565 Italian tale, which may have been based on an actual incident occurring in Venice about 1508.
The only named character in the original story is “Disdemona.” The name derives from Greek, which means “ill-fated, unfortunate.”
In the original tale, the ensign lusts after Disdemona and is spurred to revenge when she rejects him.
While Shakespeare followed the original tale’s influence in composing Othello, he deviated significantly in many details.
In Shakespeare’s play, Desdemona is deeply upset by her husband’s attacks but continues to assert her love.
In the final act, Othello tells her that he knows she has been unfaithful and is going to kill her.
Despite Desdemona’s claims of innocence, Othello refuses to believe her. Othello strangles Desdemona in his paranoia.
Eventually, Othello learns of Desdemona’s faithfulness after all the lies have been exposed, and he commits suicide.
The role of Desdemona has attracted many notable actresses through the centuries, and Margaret Hughes (1645 – 1719), the first professional actress on the English stage, has the distinction of being the first to perform the role in 1660.
- Title: Desdemona
- Artist: Frederic Leighton
- Created: 1888
- Media: Oil paint on Canvas
- Dimensions: Height: 21.5 in (54.6 cm); Width: 18 in (45.7 cm)
- Museum: Leighton House Museum, London.
Sir Frederic Leighton, the artist, was successful and famous during his lifetime, with many works depicted historical, biblical, and classical subjects.
Leighton was the bearer of the shortest-lived peerage in history, 1st Baron Leighton. After only one day, his hereditary peerage became extinct upon his death. Leighton remained a bachelor with no legitimate children.
Leighton’s house in Holland Park, London, has been turned into a museum, the Leighton House Museum.
It has many of his drawings and paintings, as well as some of his former art collection, including works by Old Masters and his contemporaries.
- Name: Frederic Leighton, 1st Baron Leighton
- Born: 1830 – Scarborough, England, United Kingdom
- Died: 1896 (aged 65) – London, England
- Movement: Academicism, Neoclassicism, and British Aestheticism
- Notable Works:
Desdemona’s Wooing from Othello, Act 1 Scene 3 by William Shakespeare
Desdemona – Villain and Virtue
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Shakespeare: Othello – Summary and Analysis of the Theme of Love
Othello by William Shakespeare | Summary & Analysis
Virtual Tour of Historically Influential Books
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Insider’s Guide: Language in Othello
The 10 Most Important Quotes in Othello
Insider’s Guide: Deception in Othello
“Let husbands know
Their wives have sense like them.”
– Shakespeare, Othello
Photo Credit:1) Frederic Leighton, 1st Baron Leighton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons