William Cheselden was a leading English surgeon in the reign of
George II, practising in London in the age of William Hogarth, Sir
Isaac Newton and Alexander Pope. He was a member of the
Barber-Surgeons company, based in London near the Barbican. Their
building included an anatomy theatre designed by Inigo Jones,
constructed in 1636 and demolished in 1784.
The painting probably shows Cheselden in that anatomy theatre,
demonstrating privately to a group of his colleagues or interested
gentlemen. Henry VIII had united the company of barbers with the
guild of surgeons; Cheselden thought the Barber-Surgeon's company
had had its day, and that the two guilds should separate. The group
that seceded in 1745, known as the Company of Surgeons, built its
new hall, called Surgeons' Hall, in Old Bailey, including a new
anatomy theatre at Cheselden's stipulation.
The Company of Surgeons was a predecessor of the Royal College
of Surgeons of England which is today the main support organization
for surgeons in England and Wales.