Historically, flea circuses have been both real and fake. Illusionary displays came into being after performers went into decline when improved domestic hygiene and the vacuum cleaner eradicated them. Genuine circuses were established as early as the sixteenth century, and created to demonstrate the fine workmanship of jewellers. Originally trained to pull carriages and chariots, fleas progressed to kicking balls and playing instruments or emulating the actions of famous historic figures. The circuses reached their zenith in the 1830s with the arrival of Signor Bertolotto and his ‘Industrious Fleas’ who performed on both sides of the Atlantic. Owner-trainers acquired the title of ‘professor’, such as Professor Likonti who claimed to source his late-Victorian fleas in London’s East End.
(2013) transfer-printed antique serving plate, 455 x 360 x 40 mm