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Dr Dee at Chetham’s – a view from illustrator Catherine Booth

We often host classes of one kind of another at the Library, and it’s always intriguing for us as staff to see how people respond to aspects of the collections, the buildings or the history they experience while here. In April we were visited by a group of students from the Manchester School of Art, led by John Hewitt and Mark Manning. The group sought inspiration from our history, and from books once owned by the Tudor polymath and sage Dr John Dee, who lived and worked in the buildings that were to become Chetham’s Library when he was warden of Manchester’s collegiate church, now the Cathedral, in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I (1595-1605).

We were delighted to be contacted by Catherine Booth, who took part in the visit and has rendered this fascinating character, who sought to speak with angels and who gathered one of the largest libraries of his age, in a series of portraits. Catherine writes:

“As part of my illustration course at Manchester School of Art, I visited Chetham’s Library for a project on ‘Time’. During my visit I discovered the intriguing character of Dr John Dee, an astrologer, alchemist, mathematician and philosopher from the Tudor age.

Catherine Booth's portrait of Dr John Dee, etched, with ink and gold paint.

Dr Dee – etching with ink and gold paint

“Dr Dee became central to my exploration into traditional and contemporary portraiture, with my illustrations referencing the library’s many Renaissance portraits, as well as its vast collection of manuscripts. I began with my own interpretation of Dr Dee, painted in vibrant watercolours to express Dee’s mysterious nature, which I eventually recreated as etchings. I added coloured ink and gold paint to replicate the centuries old illustrations found in the Library’s medieval books, and the amalgamation of traditional printmaking with my own decorative illustrations pays homage to these original prints.

Catherine Booth's portrait of Dr John Dee etched in red

Dr Dee – etching in red

“My ultimate aim with this collection of illustrations is to express the spiritual and learned personality of Dr Dee in a series of colourful, contemporary prints.”

Catherine Booth's portrait of Dr John Dee etched, with pencil crayon

Dr Dee – etching with pencil crayon

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