Magic, Witches and Devils in the Early Modern World

Magic, Witches and Devils in the Early Modern World, 2016.

Magic, Witches and Devils in the Early Modern World. John Rylands Library exhibition, 21 January – 21 August 2016.

This fascinating exhibition, housed within the gothic splendour of The John Rylands Library in Manchester, reveals how magic, diabolical witchcraft and ghostly encounters inspired fear and curiosity on an unprecedented scale between the 15th and 18th centuries. With stunning local, European and non-Western examples from Manchester collections, the exhibition offers an exceptionally wide-ranging window onto the supernatural world. Curated by historians Jennifer Spinks and Sasha Handley from the University of Manchester, the exhibition presents rare books, prints, manuscripts and objects that illuminate the roots of our obsession with supernatural powers and reveal a world where the Devil was understood as a very real and present danger in daily life.

The exhibition draws on the collections of the John Rylands Library, the Whitworth Art Gallery and Chetham’s Library which contain many rare books, prints, manuscripts and protective amulets that provide unique perspectives on how early modern people feared, engaged with, and sometimes found pleasure in the supernatural world. The years c.1400- c.1800 coincided with major changes in European society, from scientific developments to religious conflicts to a great increase in the number of printed publications. One of the most important changes was increasing contact with other lands. Although the exhibition focuses principally on Europe, it also includes examples of how some non-Western traditions represented and tapped into powers beyond the everyday.

Compendium magiae innaturalis nigrae (Compendium of Unnatural Black Magic).

Compendium magiae innaturalis nigrae (Compendium of Unnatural Black Magic).
Pseudo-Michael Scot. Franconia, Germany, late 16th century (Latin MS 105).

The Compendium was attributed to the astrologer Michael Scot, whose infamy as a supposed magician was noted even by the famous Italian poet Dante. Intriguingly, the Scot manuscript contained strange elements of Arabic artifice. What appears to be a copy of an earlier spell, transcribed into corrupted or fake Arabic, was included as a precursor to its Latin ‘translation’. This was evidently designed to lend a sense of mystery as well as credibility to the conjurations contained within the book.

Shahnama (Book of Kings).

Shahnama (Book of Kings). Abu’l Qasim Firdousi (‘Ferdowsi’) and unknown artist. Western India, mid 15th century (Persian MS 9).

The Shahnama (Book of Kings) was an epic poem that detailed Persian history from the beginning of the world to the arrival of Islam. It appeared in many manuscript editions and generated a vibrant artistic tradition. The story of Rustam’s fourth task saw the hero enter a land populated by demons and sorcerers, where he was approached by a witch in the guise of a beautiful young woman. Realising her true nature when she recoiled at hearing the name of God, Rustam ordered her to ‘speak and show thy proper favour’. Returning to her hideous, wrinkled appearance, she was quickly put to the sword.

 

 

The Art of Dying was designed to help people achieve a good death. Images of poor deathbed performances (listed as faithlessness, despair, impatience, vainglory and avarice) were contrasted with those showing how the dying person should behave (with faith, hope, patience, humility and worldly detachment). ‘The Temptation to Avarice’ scene, for example, shows a group of demons pointing to the dying man’s possessions and loved ones, reminding him of the things he will soon leave behind.

Ars moriendi (Art of Dying)


Ars moriendi (Art of Dying) Unknown author and artist. Strasbourg, France, c. 1475 (Blockbook collection 10123).

For further details and an online copy of the exhibition booklet, written by Jennifer Spinks, Sasha Handley and Postdoctoral Research Associate Stephen Gordon, see: http://www.library.manchester.ac.uk/rylands/whats-on/exhibitions/magic/

Magic, Witches & Devils in the Early Modern World runs from 21 January – 21 August 2016 at The John Rylands Library, Manchester.

You can also find an interview with the curators about the process of putting the exhibition together on the University of Manchester History blog (https://uomhistory.wordpress.com/2016/01/11/magic-witches-and-devils-in-the-early-modern-world-new-exhibition/)

This exhibition has been generously supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

AHRC logo

AHRC logo

Julianne Simpson
Rare Books and Maps Manager, Special Collections
University of Manchester Library

All images copyright The John Rylands Library, Manchester and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

University of Sussex catalogue loaded

We’re pleased to announce that the holdings of the University of Sussex Library have been added to Copac.

University of Sussex Library.

University of Sussex Library. Image copyright: University of Sussex

Designed by Sir Basil Spence, the University of Sussex Library has been a central feature of academic life since the campus was established as the first of a new wave of Universities in the early 1960s.

The materials in the Library reflect the wide range of the University’s teaching and research. There are over 650,000 books and journals in its main collection, as well as government publications, audio visual materials, Archives and Rare Books. The Library has a growing number of online resources and is transitioning to a digital library environment.

The library also holds a number of Special Collections at The Keep, a state-of-the-art building and centre of excellence for conservation and preservation, representing the new generation of archive buildings in the UK. It includes:

  • The papers of Rudyard Kipling
    The New Statesman Archive
  •  Bloomsbury Group
  •  Monks House Papers (Virginia Woolf).
  • The Mass Observation Archive containing the papers of the social research organisation of the 1930s and 40s and continues to collect new material in the present day.

To browse, or limit your search to the University of Sussex, go to the main tab on copac.jisc.ac.uk and choose ‘Sussex University’ from the list of libraries.