Rigg's Cabinet of Curiosities



Sicily, culture and conquest : British Museum

… intriguing and inspiring wander through this most multicultural of islands … 4002

A gem of an exhibition – just about the right size – tracing the varied history of the Mediterranean’s largest island from its Phoenician and Greek settlers through successive waves of Romans, Muslim Arabs and Africans, Normans, Spanish and eventually the Italians.

As other commentators have said all this open minded cultural mingling is a refreshing change from “the Mafia and Montalbano” cliche that the island now carries.  I was beguiled by the alluring exoticism of the mix of exhibits: a projection of a decorative ceiling, ancient rock art,  a stunning mosaic Madonna. Each one a jewel like the Sicilian oranges described by C12th poet Abd ar-Rahman, who served the court of Roger II, as “blazing fire among the emerald boughs”.

Illustration: A map of Sicily from Al-Idrisi’s Treatise, c AD1300–1500.   Photograph: © The Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Until 14 August 2016 : Room 35
£10, Members/under 16s free

Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee

… fascinating  books and doodles make a great browse around one of the C16th’s finest minds …

deeThe Royal College of Physicians holds the largest single collection of John Dee’s books in the world.  This enigmatic Elizabethan was a mathematician, an astrologer and advisor to Queen Elizabeth.   As an occult philosopher, he devoted much of his life to the study of alchemy, divination and Hermetic philosophy and built up one of the finest libraries of 16h century England. Unfortunately, whilst travelling, Dee left his library in the care of his brother-in-law, who sold or “caused (…) to be carried away” most of the books.  A large number passed to a book collector, the Marquis of Dorchester, whose family presented them to the RCP after his death in 1680.

The books displayed here include some of his student text books with lovely annotations and sketches,dee2 including this rather fabulous ship found in the corner of a page of Cicero’s Opera.  Other works show the ingenuity of c16th printing making with foldout paper diagrams in The Elements of Geometrie, Euclid, and a manual on writing in code with “Volvelles” or wheels which still spin around to jumble the letters.  Alongside books from their collection, the RCP have managed to borrow various objects from the British Museum, the Ashmolean, the Science Museum and the Wellcome Institute.   These include John Dee’s obsidian Scrying mirror and crystal ball; and various paintings and engravings of the man.

This is a fascinating exhibition.  It is small yet perfectly curated, crammed full of gorgeous exhibits and helpful explanatory notes.  It is a great browse around one of the C16th’s finest minds and I urge you to go!

There is a great introductory video by the rare books librarian, Katie Birkwood, and some other interesting articles on the RCP’s own website which you can access here.

The Royal College of Physicians is a short walk from Great Portland St Tube station.  The show continues until 29 July 2016, Monday-Friday only, 9am-5pm. FREE ENTRY


Shakespeare in Art: Tempests, Tyrants and Tragedy : Compton Verney

… intriguing multimedia mash up with added stage and audio effects …

‘Macbeth’, Act I, Scene 3, the Weird Sisters, Henry Fuseli, 1783 © RSC.

My favourite art gallery, Compton Verney, is celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary  with an inspirational mix of multimedia and C18th works, put together like so many stage sets and arranged in “Acts.” The show has been designed by RSC’s Director of Design, Stephen Brimson Lewis.

I particularly enjoyed Davy and Kristin McGuire’s mesmerising holographic projection onto water, “Ophelia’s Ghost” and the brilliant audio of the performance poet, Kate Tempest, rapping her RSC commissioned version of The Tempest.

JS86067554Ophelia’s Ghost Kristin and Davy McGuire, photograph by Electric Egg

The exhibition runs 19 March ‐ 19 June 2016 and is definitely worth a visit.  If you haven’t been to Compton Verney before, I urge you to go.   The exhibition space and park are a delight and make a great day out for both art fiends, nature lovers and families.  There’s a a cafe and a restaurant, an adventure playground for children, and new boardwalks and pond dipping around the lake.  Click here to be directed to their website.

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