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(Click on image to enlarge.)
click here to enlarge "1509 - 1609"
oil on panel 30 x 24 inches


In the foreground of this painting, inspired by the reign of Elizabeth I, we find a thirteenth-century manuscript of William de Conches' Dragmaticon philosophiae (MS G.3, The Library, St. John’s), belonging to the Queen’s astrologer John Dee. Above the opening of the text is the signature of John Dee and a note that he bought it on 4 May 1557 in London. At the bottom of the page is a note that reads 'The Philosophy of William de Conches in the second edition, from the library of St Augustine's Canterbury'. Dee was keen on collecting books from dissolved monasteries so it is not surprising to find him acquiring this.

The instrument on the velvet cushion is an astronomical compendium, by Charles Whitwell, English, 1604 (Wh.1733, Whipple Museum). An astronomical compendium is an instrument that carries numerous devices for telling the time and performing astronomical calculations. Typically such compendia carry a sundial, various lunar and solar volvelles, a compass, tables of latitude, and a perpetual calendar. Almost all compendia have at least one form of sundial. These are often adjustable for use in different places, and are accompanied by lists of the latitudes G of major cities around the world. Sometimes these lists are obviously functional, including various towns and major ports, but often they are more fanciful, including places such as Babylon, Alexandria, Moscow, Cuba, Constantinople, and Nineveh (an important ancient city in Assyria). Like the gilt decoration and detailed engraving, these were intended to show the wealth and status of the instrument's owner.

At the centre of the painting we find the Emmanuel College Grant of Arms from January 1588, a few years after the College’s foundation in 1584. The “azure” lion was chosen as it echoed the coat-of-arms of the College’s founder, Sir Walter Mildmay, which contained amongst other things three azure lions rampant. The lower flap of this deed is permanently folded up because of the way it is sealed, therefore part of the signature (of Robert Cooke, Clarenceux King of Arms) is concealed.

To the left is William Gilbert’s De Magnete published in London in 1600 by Peter Short. The pages show Gilbert's models of the earth, which he called terrellae, little earths. The diagram at the top of the left-hand page is intended to show that the greatest magnetic force is at the poles. The diagram at the bottom shows the location of the magnetic poles when a sphere is sub-divided into half, then into quarters. The large diagram on the right-hand page shows lines of magnetic force tending to the poles.

To the right is Jeronimo Osorio's De nobilitate civili (Aa.6.20*, The Library, St. John’s) presented in April 1555 by Roger Ascham to Cardinal Reginald Pole, who became Archbishop of Canterbury in December that year. At the end of his dedicatory letter, Ascham says a few words about the author of the volume, and then offers the book as a token of his devotion to the Cardinal. He ends 'May God always keep your lordship safe. London 7 April 1555. The most devoted to your lordship, Roger Ascham'. Ascham was renowned in Cambridge for his beautiful calligraphic handwriting.

At the top of the composition is the Book of Common Prayer. The frontispiece reads The booke of the common praier and administracion of the Sacramentes, and other rites and ceremonies of the Churche: after the use of the Churche of Englande. Londini : In officina Richardi Graftoni, Regii impressoris. Cum privilegio ad imprimendum solum, Anno Domini. M.D.XLIX. Mense Martii (i.e. London : in the shop of Richard Grafton, printer to the King. With the right of sole printing. In the month of March in the year of Our Lord 1549)

In addition to Emmanuel, the coats-of-arms of the other three colleges founded in this period appear upon the small wooden columns at the bottom of the painting: John’s (1511), Trinity (1546) and Sidney Sussex (1596).

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