Painting of Edward Kelly turns up at auction
Painting of Edward Kelly turns up at auction

Painting of Edward Kelly turns up at auction

Edward Kelly from the rare picture

A very rare painting of Dr John Dee’s magic partner Edward Kelley has just been sold at auction. 
Measuring over 8ft wide (2.49m), it was painted on nine wooden boards and depicted the alchemist (1555-1597) it had been stored in a stable in Warwickshire and then a coachhouse in mid Wales for many years, it had previously sold at a public auction within the last ten years but then re-emerged at Mellors & Kirk’s two-day auction on June 12-13.
It is the only known painted image of Kelley. Simply cataloged as ’17thcentury English School’, and was not printed from real life,
In fact it appears to have been based on a later woodcut image of Kelley which was used as the frontispiece to Meric Casaubon’s excerpts of Dee’s manuscript diary published in 1659.
Kelley was born in Worcester in 1555, educated at Oxford and for a time went by the name of Edward Talbot. Before acting as Dee’s scryer or medium, Kelley had worked for Thomas Allen, an astrologer known for practicing “black arts”.
The estimate at the Nottingham sale was £3000-5000 – a reasonable pitch given its unusual and somewhat esoteric appeal.  But it was considered “extremely fragile with numerous areas of flaking/missing paint… Shrinkage cracks between the boards.. Areas of woodworm on the reverse.. original rusted iron butterfly hinges.  The auctioneers were warning that even moving it could be risky. It was sold for £7500.
While it is not a picture taken from real life, it is interesting because it flies in the face of many impressions of Kelly as being a young criminal figure.  Here his beard is white and even longer than Dee’s.   He is not exactly slim either.
It appears that the painting was made for a person who was working with Dee and Kelly’s system.  It was painted on the inside of a cupboard or meditation room.   In the background there appears to be an image of someone summoning something while standing in a magic circle. In otherwords this is not about the alchemist Edward Kelly, but the magician.
This suggests is that there was a belief amongst the esoteric community of the time that Meric Casaubon’s woodcuts were accurate and perhaps based on his research rather than artistic fancy.  However the literal fleshing out of Kelly would appear to be based on some information which has not come down to us from other sources and the fact that it came from Warwickshire suggests some local knowledge.