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(Re)enacting a legacy

Meet British opera singer Peter Brathwaite, whose knack for recreating portraits is as important as it is entertaining.

Henry Briggs, 'Ira Aldridge as Othello' c. 1830, The National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C. and Peter Brathwaite's recreation

Henry Briggs, 'Ira Aldridge as Othello' c. 1830, The National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C. and Peter Brathwaite's recreation.

Although many of history’s most famous portraits were painted centuries ago, art-lovers continue to find new and dynamic ways of engaging with their favourite works. You may remember our recent portrait recreation contest , in which we challenged you to reenact and capture your favourite portrait from the AGO Collection – garnering results that were both stunning and hilarious. 

Since the pandemic lockdown began back in March, one British opera singer has taken this fun pastime and elevated it into a meaningful exploration of history and culture. After stumbling upon a Getty Museum challenge to recreate famous works of art with household items, acclaimed British opera baritone Peter Brathwaite answered the call. Not only did he end up as a top contestant, but he continued the practice of recreating portraits throughout the months that followed – focusing exclusively on historical works that feature Black subjects. 

“I hadn’t seen many recreations of pieces of art with Black people before I started to do it myself. And it’s an acknowledgment of what a great challenge it is in the way it’s opened up a whole new world of creativity and culture for me.”, says Brathwaite about the Getty challenge. 

To date, he has completed more than 80 portraits honouring a wide range of subjects, from the ancient West African king of gold, Mansa Musa, to the leader of the Haitian Revolution, Toussaint Louverture. The viral success of Brathwaite’s reenactments have helped bring attention to the presence of Black subjects in historical portraiture, while allowing him to explore and pay homage to his ancestry. 

On Monday, August 31, Brathwaite will meet AGO curator Adam Levine via Facebook Live to discuss his innovative project. They will explore the presence, and importance, of Black subjects in historical works of art, including the AGO's Portrait of a Lady Holding an Orange Blossom.

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