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This article is taken from PN Review 235, Volume 43 Number 5, May - June 2017.

From Chetham’s Library
5: Cinnamon Girl
Michael Powell
John Dee’s marginalia in his copy of Konrad Gesner’s De Remediis Secretis (1555)

IMAGE John Dee’s marginalia in his copy of Konrad Gesner’s De Remediis Secretis (1555). Photograph © Chetham’s Library,  2017

THE INK SKETCH of a young girl with her breasts exposed appears in the margin of Konrad Gesner’s De Remediis Secretis, or Book of Secret Remedies, printed in Lyon in 1555. The tiny sketch, which measures a mere 10 x 20 mm, was drawn by the Elizabethan astrologer, mathematician and occult philosopher John Dee (1527–1608). Dee acquired a copy of Gesner’s book within a year of its publication, recording his name and date of purchase, 1556, on the title-page. Moreover he read his copy of Gesner, a key text on the art of distillation, from cover to cover, marking almost every page with underlinings, marginal comments, manicules (‘pointy fingers’), and sketches. In addition to the young girl there are drawings of alchemical equipment, a candle that stays lit under water, and a spider. The girl illustrates a cosmetic recipe: ‘To make the face clear and young, so that it appears to be scarcely older than fifteen years of age. Twelve fresh eggs, without the shells. An ounce of cinnamon. A pound of asses’ milk. Then wash the face with the water once extracted through the alembic.’

Dee had one of the the largest libraries in renaissance England and the importance of his books and marginalia have been recognised for some time. Only last year a major exhibition of his books was held at ...
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