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Portrait of the Medium and Alchemist Edward Kelley by Francis Clein

One of a kind

Portrait of the Medium and Alchemist Edward Kelley by Francis Clein

"Shuckburgh Hall, Warwickshire Private Collection"

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One of a kind

Portrait of the Medium and Alchemist Edward Kelley by Francis Clein

This extraordinary painting, of exceptional rarity and scale, depicts Sir Edward Kelley, revered figure of British Renaissance history and self-declared spirit medium, who claimed to be able to transmute base metals into gold. The work is over eight foot wide and is presented on nine elm boards.

The artist, Francis Clein, travelled to England from the Danish court in the early 1620s. In London, he entered the service of Charles, Prince of Wales, becoming official designer to the Mortlake tapestry works in 1625, and an early member of that exceptional group of artists and makers that Charles brought together with such splendid and historic results. Clein initially oversaw the creation of the tapestry cartoons - including the recently acquired Raphael cartoons (now in the V&A) - and these Mortlake productions were to gain extraordinary fame, especially in France, and were dispersed over the continent.

As Clein's reputation grew, he became increasingly employed by a group of collectors and patrons associated directly with Charles's circle - known as the Whitehall Group - primarily to decorate their great houses. By the middle of the seventeenth century examples of Clein's work could be seen at Somerset House, Carew House, Parson's Green, Hanworth Palace, Petworth, Wimbledon House, Stone Park, Holland House and Bolsover Castle.

The grotesques and other ornaments represented in these works were a line in which Clein appears to have been unrivalled, and he was spoken of in his lifetime as a second Titian, and as 'il famosissimo pittore, miracolo del secolo' (George Vertue).

It is his work in the great houses of the Whitehall Group that can be associated most closely with the present painting, which in particular can usefully be set alongside such work as Clein's ceiling paintings in the Green Closet at Ham House (see image gallery), and the series of wall paintings depicting the 'Labours of Hercules' in the Little Castle at Bolsover (see image gallery), which have been attributed to Clein by the Courtauld Institute.

Clearly, Francis Clein enjoyed a glorious reputation in his own lifetime, during a period of significant artistic Renaissance in England. It is perhaps the variety of his genius, as well as the paucity of extant work by the artist that has caused his name to sink below that of his peers - so much of it was in the form of wall decorations, and therefore prone to destruction - though for scholars and aficionados of this period, Clein must remain as one of the greatest stars of his era, and evidently one of the most accomplished.

The present work, in its stature, scope and quality, must therefore rank amongst the most powerful and fascinating panel paintings of its kind: it is a work of enormous interest and of premier historic importance.


Edward Kelley:
Kelley has always been closely associated with Dr John Dee (1527-1608), the extraordinary English Renaissance magus, mathematician and performer of 'marvellous actes and feates', and indeed his career is inexorably entwined with the career of Dr Dee. Kelley was born in Worcester in 1555, was educated at Oxford, and for a time was known as Edward Talbot. From 1582-89 he practised ‘cabalist theurgy’, or angelic conferences, in Enochian, the language he and Dee claimed to have received from angels.

Before acting as Dee's scryer or medium Kelley had served another magus, Thomas Allen, in whose house he may have acquired a knowledge of esoteric philosophies. He was certainly well versed in Agrippa's De Occulta Philosophia by the time of their meeting. P.J. French (John Dee, The World of an Elizabethan Magus, 1972) points out that from reading Dee's minutes of conversations with the angel Uriel there is little doubt Kelley was mentally unstable and that he really did think he saw angel visitors.

Dee (see Image Gallery) was highly esteemed by Elizabeth I and a small group of courtiers who sought his advice and supported his researches into hermetic knowledge, despite the publication in 1563 of the staunchly protestant John Foxe's Actes and Monuments. The book, an Elizabethan bestseller, was soon to be found in every English cathedral and most parish churches. In this text Dee was accused of being 'the arche conjurer of England' and a 'caller of divels'.



Following the invitation of the Polish nobleman and alchemist, Albert Laski (1527-1605), Dee and Kelley and their respective wives and children spent several years on the Continent, where Kelley's increasing notoriety may well have resulted in his suspicious death in Bohemia in 1598. Perhaps as a pretext to sever their spiritual conferences, since Kelley had become more concerned with alchemical research and the riches to flow from discovering the philosopher's stone, he revealed to Dee that a spirit had commanded that they share everything, including their wives. This 'cross-matching' occurred in 1587, but remained a secret until after Dee's death. The Queen recalled Dee to England in 1589.

The Present Painting:
The only other surviving early portrait of Kelley comes in the form of the woodcut frontispiece to Meric Casaubon's excerpts of Dee's A True and Faithful Relation of what passed for many Years between Dr: John Dee ... and Some Spirits (London 1659). The woodcut and the present painting share a number of formal similarities which clearly relate them as showing the present sitter, and which indicate that the woodcut was created after the present painting. Both portraits depict the same old man with a large beard, who wears a robe and biretta and holds a collection of papers.

There is a further pertinent connection between Francis Clein and the sitter: a plate with six heads is shown in a prefix to the 1659 publication of John Dee's 'Monas Hieroglyphica' which is inscribed
'with Fran. Cleyn invent.'

The history of the painting is impressive: it is recorded as having been part of the collection at Shuckburgh Hall, Warwickshire (see image gallery), from the 17th century. From this provenance it seems likely that Sir Richard Shuckburgh (1596-1656) commissioned the work (which places it as being earlier than the Casaubon woodcut, which was published in 1659).

The iconography of the work is complex. Kelley is portrayed in a full-length black robe and three-cornered biretta, of the kind worn by Roman Catholic - and some Anglican and Lutheran - ministers, (although there is no record of Kelley having matriculated at Oxford.) Kelley is shown seated in an ornate gilt throne-like chair, the arm of which terminates in a prominent devil's head. The index finger of his right hand lies between the pages of an almost closed book, presumably symbolic of its hermetic content. On the floor is a globe inscribed 'Laki Magician' which is a reference to the Polish Count
Adelbert Laski, who invited Dee and Kelley to stay with them on the Continent.

The spatial arrangement of the painting is also of particular interest, with the sitter being partly shown in a study, and partly in the space of what may be a Rosicrucian temple. The table at which he sits is covered with a red cloth on which, propped on a skull, is an alchemical manuscript, a violin, a geometrical square, dividers, a drawing of a Euclidean triangle, and another open book, the edge of which bears the damming alternative title The Lyar's Regulator. On a black and white tiled floor is a diminutive witch and her 'familiar', and beyond, a rood, altar and a lamp.

Summary:
This extraordinary panel is of exceptional interest in the history of secular painting in England in the seventeenth century. The work is on a grand scale, and was clearly intended for placement in a significant architectural scheme; it is the work of an artist widely and richly praised in his lifetime, an artist patronised by a roster of collectors from the hallowed Whitehall Group; and it reveals - with particular intellectual value - the intriguing world of Jacobean alchemy, wisdom and scientific thought - the world of Edward Kelley. ~ S Mallet, Daniel Hunt Fine Art

Francis Clein (c.1582-1658)
A Vanitas Portrait of the Medium and Alchemist Edward Kelley (1555-1597/8) seated full length at a table by a witch and her familiar (a cat), with inscription lower left 'Laki Magician' on a globe and on the edge of a book The Lyar's Regulator.

Oil and tempera on nine elm boards (hinged at centre), with arched top 77 x 98 in (195 x 249 cm) In a contemporary bolection moulded frame.

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Portrait of the Medium and Alchemist Edward Kelley by Francis Clein

PROVENANCE: Shuckburgh Hall, Warwickshire / Private Collection
DATE: Circa 1596-1656
RESIDES IN: Sloane Square, London
MEASUREMENTS: 77 x 98 in (195 x 249 cm)
CONDITION: -

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