Over the past 6 months, we had become accustomed to the presence of a new friend who had taken up temporary residence on our first floor gallery.
On 28 July we said a fond farewell to John Dee, as our exhibition ‘Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee’ came to an end. The books were returned to their shelves, the paintings came down, and the man who had brought us so much delight in recent months was put back to bed.
John Dee (1527–1609) was a remarkable and fascinating figure. We have learned about him through putting together the exhibition, from the research of visiting scholars, by hearing our incredible guest speakers at events and from our wonderful museum visitors. The more we’ve learned, the more we have come to understand not only the extraordinary life that Dee led, but also the many ways in which his memory and legacy still resonate today, 400 years after his death.
John Dee was – perhaps surprisingly – also incredibly endearing. We have learned about his inquisitive mind as he fastidiously recorded weather conditions in Louvain, and have witnessed his almost sulky reaction to an account of the Trojan War that didn’t feature a wooden horse. We have seen his penchant for pop-up books, and we’ve seen how Dee engaged with his library by making the most elaborate, almost otherworldly doodles in the margins of his books: strange men with bearded faces, and a fanciful Tudor galleon.
One of our intentions with the exhibition was to present John Dee as we know him: through the surviving remains of his library, cared for by the RCP since 1680. The image and concept of John Dee have been reinterpreted again and again over the centuries, and we hope that the story we have been so privileged to tell can add an extra piece to the puzzle and help cement John Dee in the public’s imagination for many more years to come.
Sarah Backhouse, exhibitions officer
- ‘Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee’ closed on Thursday 28 July 2016.
- See objects from the exhibition and find out more about Dee on the RCP museum Pinterest board.
- Read more about the exhibition and John Dee's lost library on the library, archive and museum blog.
- Rare books from the RCP library are available for research by prior appointment.
- The next RCP museum exhibition is 'To fetch out the fire': reviving London, 1666, which opens on 1 September 2016.