Exhibition about the Occultist Dr John Dee opening soon

Mathematician, magician, astronomer, astrologer, explorer, occultist, imperialist, alchemist and spy, John Dee continues to fascinate centuries after he first stepped foot in the court of Elizabeth I.

Time to reserve a date off work* as what looks to be a rather good exhibition about the man opens next year, but only between Mon-Fri.

Cicero - Opera omnia, vol. 2, ship drawing - copyright RCP and John Chase

Cicero – Opera omnia, vol. 2, ship drawing – copyright RCP and John Chase

In under 100 days time, a never seen before selection from 100 surviving books once owned by the man known universally as ‘Dr Dee’ will go on display at the Royal College of Physicians.

Alongside histories and guides to the art of love are mathematical treatises and introductions to the craft of alchemy, turning base metals into gold. More curious and captivating are Dee’s astrological textbooks: this is a man once imprisoned for casting horoscopes of Queen Mary. Strangest of all perhaps, are the accounts of Dee’s ‘conversations with angels’: for over quarter of a century he believed himself in contact with divine spirits via mediums known as ‘scryers’.

Reunited with Dee’s lost library for the first time since his death more than 400 years ago are a selection of extraordinary artefacts he once owned.

Elements of geometry, 1570, folding diagrams - copyright RCP - and John Chase

Elements of geometry, 1570, folding diagrams – copyright RCP – and John Chase

From the British Museum comes a crystal ball for researching the occult and conversing with spirits, a ‘magic disc’ for contacting angels and a ‘magical mirror’ for conjuring visions. The Science Museum provides a ‘scrying mirror’ for predicting the future and John Dee’s own crystal, of especial interest as he claimed it was given to him personally by the angel Uriel, who also ‘instructed’ Dee on how to make the philosopher’s stone.

Described by one biographer as ‘The Queen’s Conjuror’, no figure from the Tudor world better exemplifies the diverse and apparently contradictory intellectual and social preoccupations of the age. At once deeply religious and fastidiously superstitious, both a scholar of mathematics and magic, a keen historian on the one hand and courtier on the other.

‘Scholar, courtier, magician: The lost library of John Dee’ runs at the museum of the Royal College of Physicians from 18 January to 29 July 2016.

It is free to visit, but only open Mon-Fri 9am-5pm.

John Dee performing an experiment before Queen Elizabeth I. Credit: Wellcome Library

John Dee performing an experiment before Queen Elizabeth I. Credit: Wellcome Library

*Yes, I know not everyone works conventional office hours, myself included as it happens, but a sufficiently large percentage of the population does, so the comment stands.

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