Costume Design for Volpone, by Ralph Adron 1960


These are costume designs for a production of Ben Jonson’s Volpone at the Slade School of Art, London in 1960. They were drawn by Ralph Adron (born 1937), and represent the characters of Corbaccio (nos. 1–2), Corvino (no. 3) and Voltore (no. 4). Adron created the illustrations using watercolour, gouache and gold foil on paper.

The designs are based on early modern clothing, incorporating ruffs, plumed hats, doublets, elaborate capes and stockings. Each costume also reflects its character’s bestial affinity, portraying the three legacy hunters as the carrion-eating birds they are named after (from the Italian, Corbaccio: crow, Corvino: raven, Voltore: vulture). All three wear black, with long capes and gowns that suggest feathered wings. Corbaccio and Corvino also wear feathered hats. Voltore’s collar and sleeves are edged with small three-pointed embellishments which create the hunched yet imposing silhouette of a vulture.

Volpone on the 20th- and 21st-century stage

Volpone appeared consistently on stage from its first performance in 1606 up until 1785. By this point interest in the play had waned, and it didn’t grace the stage again until the early 20th century.

Modern productions have faced the same problems that have been associated with the play since its conception, and which Jonson defends in the Epistle of the first printed edition. Namely, this involves the serious, and therefore perhaps unsatisfactory, ending of the play. Traditionally the comic genre, which Volpone belongs to, ends happily with weddings rather than judicial punishment for the protagonists. Also problematic is the Sir Politic Would-Be subplot, and its staging, which as a result has often been cut or adapted.

In the later decades of the 20th century, and the early 21st century, adaptations of Volpone have been characterised by experimentation with the limits of social acceptability. The play broke taboos when it was first performed and it has been the task of many modern directors to translate the play’s risqué elements into scenes that would equally shock a contemporary audience.

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Costume Design for Cobaccio, Corvino and Voltore in Ben Jonson's Volpone. By Ralph Adron, 1960.
Painting / Illustration / Image
Ralph Adron
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© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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Victoria and Albert Museum
S.3024-2013; S.3025-2013; S.3026-2013

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