rubbing shoulders with the celestial emperor

The noble houses of eighteenth century England. Eventually the life blood of civilization began to flow through the veins of barbarized Europe. Gradually, a tide of wealth swept over the old noble warrior society. By 1750 the Western world had captured a vast commerce unequaled in humankind’s history that enabled men of property to live in sophisticated luxury previously only enjoyed by the high levels of the aristocracy…

Jan Siberechts (1627‑c.1700)
Landscape with Rainbow, Henley-on-Thames
Date c.1690
MediumOil paint on canvas
Dimensionssupport: 819 x 1029 mm
Acquisition Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1967 —Read More:

…Within, of course, the houses showed the same prodigality. There can be found the best marbles of antiquity;masterpieces of art of all times and countries- Rembrandt, Holbein, Velazquez, and a hundred others; French furniture of a quality and distinction hard to find in France itself; porcelain that graced the palace of the Celestial Emperor cheek by jowl with the finest china of Meisen and Sevres; illuminated manuscripts, plate of gold and silver, Renaissance bronzes and jewels, rock crystal; tapestries and carpets from Aubusson and the great factories of the East; books by the million and family portraits- Reynoldses, Gainsboroughs, Romneys- by the ton. As room follows room, blazing with gilt and shining with marble, the perceptive sight-seer asks himself time and time again: why such magnificence? why such ostentation? why did any class of men feel the need for such a wanton and public display of their wealth? – for public it was.

—The portrait above shows John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore (painted by Joshua Reynolds, 1765), wearing the uniform of one of the Highland Regiments.—Read More:

The thousands who now troop through the salons and boudoirs of the great houses of England are treading in the footsteps of generations of sight-seers. From the moment they were built, the houses were open to visitors; they needed to be gentlefolk and they were expected to be generous to the housekeeper. In the eighteenth century the curious and the cognoscenti designed for themselves summer tours and took their fill- sometimes admiring, sometimes critical- of the grandeur of their times. Few would have comprehended Dr. Johnson’s meaning when he said to Boswell after viewing Lord Scarsdale’s great house at Kedleston: “Nay, sir, all this excludes but one evil- poverty.” None bothered to ask themselves the questions that spring so insistently to the mind of the modern visitors. Why was this necessary? How much did it cost? What number of servants were required? Just how did people live in palaces as vast as these?

—John Wootton (c.1682 – 1764)
Sir Robert Walpole with Horse and Groom
Oil on canvas —Read More:

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