Past beyond the gallery archive
6 April - 30 June 2013

New Walk Art Gallery, Leicester

  • Partnership exhibition

A high status African from a prosperous family of Muslim religious clerics, Ayuba Suleiman Diallo was born in the Gambia. At the age of 29 he was captured as a slave and transported to work on a plantation in America. After being imprisoned for trying to escape, he met the lawyer Thomas Bluett who become aware of Diallo’s high birth, intellect and education and took an interest in him, arranging to bring him to England in 1734.

After his arrival, he mixed with high society and had a lasting impact on Britain’s understanding of African culture, identity and religion. During this time, he was received with great enthusiasm by aristocrats and scholars including the Duke of Portland and Sir Hans Sloane, whom he helped with Arabic translations and his interest in the Qur’an. Sloane also arranged for Diallo to be presented at the Court of George II and later to be elected a member of the Gentleman’s Society at Spalding. His supporters additionally arranged for him to sit for this portrait, which is also the earliest known painting by the artist William Hoare of Bath. The artist has responded sensitively to Diallo’s personality by depicting him, at the sitter’s own request, in his traditional dress and carrying his copy of the Qur’an around his neck.

The portrait is currently on long term loan to the National Portrait Gallery and will tour to three venues across the UK.

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