Scholar, Courtier, Magician: the Lost Library of John Dee exhibition

Date: from 18th January 2016 to 29th July 2016.

Venue: Royal College of Physicians

A never seen before selection of 47 volumes from the 100 surviving books once owned by the man known universally as ‘Dr Dee’ and now held by the College will go on display in the fascinating exhibition Scholar, Courtier, Magician: the Lost Library of John Dee from 18th January 2016 to 29th July 2016.

Alongside histories and guides to the art of love are mathematical treatises and introductions to the craft of alchemy. More curious and captivating are Dee’s astronomical and astrological textbooks: this is a man, lest we forget, 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. 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.

Yet, for all that the exhibition confirms our view of Dee as an enigmatic and almost ‘magical’ figure, it also sheds light on the early life of this man of great learning, possessed with a voracious appetite for collecting. Many of the items on display come from Dee’s career before his time at the court of Elizabeth I, a period often overlooked by historians as it pre-dates Dee’s own diaries and many of the better-known episodes of his life. The portrait we get is of a man, from his teenage years, involved in the amassing of possibly Europe’s finest private library and a sum of knowledge perhaps unrivalled in England at that time,

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.

Over four centuries in scope, this magnificent exhibition reveals the enigmatic and paradoxical John Dee as never before: through the books and objects that he owned, the words he wrote, the drawings he drafted, the life he led and the influence he has had over hundreds of years. There will be no more magical and unmissable glimpse into the Tudor imagination in 2016.

Click here for more information and to book your visit.

Webpage image: Euclid Elements of Geometrie © RCP and John Chase