Authors

David Dabydeen

Abstract

In 1725 James Houstoun, in a book on Africa, addressed the Directors of the Royal African Company as 'a Society of the politest Gentlemen ... in the known World'.' Who were these 'gentlemen' and in what ways were they 'polite'? Answers to these questions involve an understanding of the social changes in the art world of the period. Art collecting and connoisseurship, once the preserve of the aristocracy, had become the business of the mercantile middle class. In 1720 we fmd the Theatre]o\ivnal reflecting on the prestige of this class, citing a Mr Sealand, an eminent East-India merchant, as the

true pattern of that kind of Gentry, which has arose in the World in this last Century: I mean the great, and rich families of Merchaints, and eminent Traders, who in their Furniture, their Equipage, their Manner of Living ... are so far from being below the Gentry, that many of them are now the best Representatives of the ancient ones, and deserve the Imitation of the modern Nobility.^

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