by Josephine Johnson
Some images in the art world are made and forgotten, while others are repeated over and over again in many different mediums. A popular image of Fame Decorating Shakespeare's Tomb recently found its way into Museum Textile Services' studio in the form of embroidered and painted silk.
The embroidery depicts Fame as a woman decorating the tomb of the great William Shakespeare. The image was originally created by English painter Angelica Kauffmann in 1772. Kauffmann ranks among the first successful female European artists. The painting is a small metal roundel that may have been part of a large decorative scheme in a room. Her decorative images can be found all over furniture, porcelain, ceilings, walls, and as we've seen, embroideries.
Kaufman's painting was made into an etching a decade later by the English printmaker Francesco Bartolozzi. Converting a painting into an etching was a common way to reproduce an image before photography was invented. The etching of the painting is probably what inspired the embroideries because an etching can circulate to a much bigger audience. Notice how the tomb in the embroidery matches the shape of the tomb in the etching, not the painting!
The embroideries follow the tradition in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries of needlepoint created by school girls, who would have had much easier access to the etching than to Kaufman's painting. With inspiration coming from the black and white etching, the embroiderer had more freedom for creativity when choosing colors.
In the slide show above you can see several other embroideries of Fame at Shakespeare's tomb. We love to see the work of a female painter celebrated over and over again throughout history!