- Museum number
Object: Dr Dee's Magical Mirror
Object: Dr Dee's Magical Speculum
Magic Mirror of Doctor Dee; obsidian; wood case covered in tooled leather with label in handwriting of Horace Walpole, quotation from a Samuel Butler poem.
- Production date
- 14thC-16thC (?)
Diameter: 21 centimetres (case)
Diameter: 18.40 centimetres
Height: 22 centimetres
Length: 25.50 centimetres (case)
Weight: 881.95 grammes (mirror)
Width: 3 centimetres (case)
Width: 1.30 centimetres
- Curator's comments
Analysis undertaken at the University on Manchester, Manchester Obsidian Laboratory (Prof. Stuart Campbell), 2019, via pXRF, was able to distinguish that the obsidian used in this artefact was plausibly from Pachua, Mexico.
See also Christie's Sale 198891, Fince and Co's Cabinet of Curiosities, Oct-Nov. 2020, for a polychrome wax portrait of a bearded man depicted in ruff and black cap, first half c. 17, English, thought to be John Dee.
Associated dates : 16thC(late). Colin McEwan of the BM notes that: Michael E. Smith who specialises in Aztec archaeology (The Aztecs - Blackwell Publishing) has an essay in progress on obsidian mirrors in museum collections for an edited volume of essays on Tezcatlipoca to be published by Univ of Colorado Press. Also published by Univ of Colorado Press in 2003 is a book by Guilhem Olivier on Tezcatlipoca.
For recent bibliography on Dee see 'John Dee: Interdisciplinary Studies in English Renaissance Thought', Stephen Clucas (ed.), Dordrecht: Springer (2006).
The mirror is also illustrated on p.81 of 'Miscellanea Graphica' (Thomas Wright 1856) as part of the Londesborough collection.
For Walpole's interest in Dee see Alicia Weisberg Roberts in Snodin 2009 pp. 95-100
This obsidian mirror featured in the British Museum exhibition 'Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler' (24 September 2009 - 24 January 2010). Further details can be found in the exhibition catalogue for entries 71 and 103 (Colin McEwan and Leonardo López Luján (eds.), Moctezuma: Aztec ruler, London: British Museum Press (2009)).
The obsidian mirror and other objects associated with John Dee have attracted considerable attention from novelists. One such recent example is Jennifer Lee Carrell's 'The Shakespeare Curse' (2010), where the theft of the mirror from the British Museum together with the murder of its curator, the subsequent consecration of the mirror through human blood, and its ultimate safe return to the Museum are described in haunting detail. It should be pointed out that these events are entirely fictitious.
- On display (G1/fc20)
- Exhibition history
2018-2019 31 Aug-6 Jan, Oxford, Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Spellbound
2016 11 Jan- 22 Jul, London, Royal College of Physicians, Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee.
2014-2015 3 Oct-27 Jan, London, The British Library, Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
2012 19 Jul-25 Nov, London, BM Shakespeare: Staging the World
2010 6 Mar-4 Jul, London, V&A, Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill
2009 15 Oct-2010 3 Jan, USA, New Haven, Yale Centre for British Art, Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill
1996 21 Jun-26 Oct, London, The Wellcome Institute, Abracadabra: The Magic of Medicine
1985 7 Mar-6 Jun, USA, Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh and Roanoke
1980 15 Mar-28 Sep, Italy, Florence, Instituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza, Florence and Medicean Tuscany
- Associated titles
Associated Title: Hudibras
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Brought to Europe after the Conquest of Mexico. Acquired by Doctor Dee for use in his magical pursuits during late 16thC.
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number