Scholar, Courtier, Magician: The Lost Library of John Dee - Exhibition
Royal College of Physicians
Dr John Dee was renowned in the Renaissance. He was pensioned by Edward VII & nearly executed by Queen Mary. Eventually he was asked to figure out the best time for Elizabeth I Coronation by Robert Cecil and he became to be known as the Queen's conjurer.
He was a fascinating and energetic character who was incredibly scholastic and erudite. He traveled vastly over Europe as a Mathematician, Scientist, Courtier, Magician and more. His personal library was renowned through the world, although sadly a lot of it was stolen form him when he has been away from England toward the end of hie life. Luckily parts of resurfaced again!
The Royal College of Physicians own several of his books and items and have now put them on show here in this short but fascinating exhibition. We are confronted by cabinet containing his notes on several books he owned which show his vast erudition and broad interests. He doodled on Euclid, annotated Cicero, underlined books on Troy, studied maps and astrological charts. The collection is beyond great and seeing his had written notes is incredibly eye opening to the man and the period. The RCP has mounted a timeline of his life for those who go in knowing nothing about Dee . The famous painting by Henry Gillard Glindoni (1852-1913) of Dr Dee entertaining Elizabeth at his home (not based on historical fact) entices you over to the end of the exhibition. Later restoration work has revealed that parts of this painting had been painted over hiding what was initially portrayed around the floor in front of Dre Dee but later painted over (I am not saying what, you shall have to go yourself to see!)
Dee believes that he talked to Angels and his famous obsidian black mirror (from Mexico) is on display here with his magic crystal that was given to him by an angel. Dee believed he had figured out an angelic langue in which to converse with celestial beings.
Whilst he was a genius when it came to a lot of sciences, maths and even geography (he set a lot of trade routes for ships to travel to Asia and beyond and was the first person to coin the phrase "British Empire") However a few hundred years later because of his talk of angels, people believed him to be mad and some of his theories on the occult were questioned as either madness or that he was conman!
John Dee was strongly believed to be an inspiration for Shakespeare's wizened magician Prospero in The Tempest.
In later years he has inspires charts rankin comic books, a huge illustration by Quentin Blake and Damon Albarns Rock Opera. This is a small exhibition and can be done in an hour. I almost wanted more, but what was on show was certainly very interesting and worth seeing. There is a brief film at the start which may also be of interest to people that don't know as much about Dee that runs through some key points in his life.
Worth a look if you're a scholar, doctor, Elizabethan fanatic or occultist! There is something of interest here for everyone, because Dee was interested in everything!