Search

Rigg's Cabinet of Curiosities

Tag

magic

Fallible Justice : Laura Laakso

… tremendously satisfying urban fantasy …

fantasy fiction British wilderness

The detective is one of the Wild Folk, hurting and lonely in the city of an Olde London where magic reigns. Her apprentice is a Bird Shaman. They need to solve the murder and work out how the justice system can be corrupted before an innocent man is executed. They have five days.

Fallible Justice is a joy to read: intriguing characters and deft world building Continue reading “Fallible Justice : Laura Laakso”

Harry Potter: the History of Magic Exhibition : British Library

… showmanship, a dragon’s flower & curious composite creatures …
harry potter philosopher's stone

A History of Magic achieves the very difficult balancing act of displaying an intriguing collection of historical artefacts alongside JK Rowling‘s notes, sketches and illustrators’ works from the books. It is incredibly difficult to present a modern, imaginary world alongside objects from a time when magic was an accepted truth. The fun and knowing humour of the former can clash horridly against the simple sincerity of the latter. I am full of admiration for the lead curator, Julian Harrison, in achieving such a thoughtful exhibition. There is so much to see here that I have chosen three of my absolute favourites to highlight.

First of all, I cannot ignore – and neither can you – the amazing Ripley Scroll (detail above) which is worth the admission fee alone. It takes its name from George Ripley, an 15th century alchemist and is an astoundingly beautiful piece of showmanship – surely the 6m long scroll was not designed to be displayed in its entirely but rather unfurled slowly before some marvelling initiate? The fantastical detail and mysterious verses are a delight. There is no clear evidence that George actually designed the scroll but it is named after him because the work includes verse associated with the alchemist. There are actually about 23 copies in existence – all variations on a lost 15th century original. 

dragon arum thornton temple of floraThe second highlight for me was this magnificently doom laden portrait of the black Dragon Arum (Dracunculus vulgaris) from Robert John Thornton‘s The Temple of Flora, 1799 – 1807. This Flora is the third part of a larger work entitled: New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus and the accompanying text is rather passionate and hot under the collar about this wonderful plant. It includes lines from Frances Arabella Rowden‘s A Poetical introduction to the study of botany : “So Vice allures with Virtue’s pleasing song, / And Charms her victims with a Siren’s tongue.” Thornton attempted to produce the most impressive botanical book ever; unfortunately lack of buyers meant the whole thing nearly bankrupted him.

But my absolute favourite in the exhibition is something much more personal and delightful which could very easily be missed because it is next to the show stopping dried Mermaid (actually a pairing of a monkey and a fish).

The object is a “Game Book“. It’s a C17th game of consequences where a series of flaps overlay a wonderful collection of mythical and real beasts: siren, manticore, lion, etc. to create composite creatures. With its wobbly handwriting and charming illustrations, the curators suggest it was made as a love token. One of the drawings is of a smart gentleman wearing a large ruff with cloak thrown over one shoulder – it would please me very much if this was a self portrait designed to woo his admiring lover …

mermaid siren syren

The show is a delight and I would suggest a couple of hours to look round and negotiate the crowded rooms.

Harry Potter: A History of Magic at The British Library runs until 28 February 2018. Alas – all the tickets have now been sold. It will re-open in New York in October 2018.

To get a flavour of the exhibition you can always buy the official book of the exhibition from the British Library shop – informative and with good illustrations. Harry Potter: A History of Magic £25.00 (reduced from £30). Bloomsbury Publishing. Hardback. October 2017. Also available as an ebook. There’s also a BBC documentary about the exhibition that you can buy on DVD. For further details check out the Pottermore website.

 

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

 

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑