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Bill Brookman

Artist, theatre practitoner

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The Young Cultural Relativists. John Dee painting originally had circle of human skulls, x-ray imaging reveals. Hidden beneath a painting of the enigmatic Tudor polymath John Dee performing an experiment for Elizabeth I is a dark and slightly terrifying secret, research has discovered.

John Dee painting originally had circle of human skulls, x-ray imaging reveals

X-ray imaging of the stately Victorian artwork has revealed that Dee was originally surrounded by human skulls before the ghoulish image was painted over, probably because it was too odd for the buyer. But curators of an exhibition opening on Monday believe it sums up the conundrum of Dee: should we remember him as brilliant pioneering scientist, or as an occultist who thought he could talk to angels? The question arises at the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) headquarters in London, where remarkable books from Dee’s personal collection go on public display for the first time.

Dee, known in his day as “the Queen’s conjuror”, was one of the most extraordinary Elizabethans, a Renaissance polymath who has fascinated people for centuries.

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