Will the Real Edward Kelley Please Stand Up   4 comments

Greetings, history buffs!



Nick Farrell just posted a blog about a rare painting of Edward Kelley that recently sold at auction in the UK (pictured above).  I had mentioned this on Facebook back when it was first sold, but didn’t bother to blog about it.  The reason I’m doing so now is because of the fascinating discussion that Nick’s post has generated about Kelley’s actual appearance (and to some extent his personality).

As Nick points out, the above painting was certainly made long after Kelley’s time, and was at least partially based on the woodcut of Kelley created for Meric Casaubon’s True and Faithful Relation… (see below).  That, too, was made decades after Kelley’s death and based entirely on how the artist thought Kelley might have appeared.  (Specifically fitting his – likely erroneous – reputation as a rogue and con-man.)  Yet there are some differences between that woodcut and the above painting that suggest there might have been some “local knowledge” at work in the creation of the later image.  Note that the painting shows him older, dignified and even on the heavy side – while the below engraving shows him gaunt, with a shorter scraggly beard and shifty eyes.



Probably not what Kelley looked like

What really inspired me about this subject was a reply on Nick’s post by Vincent Bridges, where he quotes from his own work  An Alchemical Enigma: A Short History of the Rise and Fall of Sir Edward Kelley.  It’s just three short paragraphs, but they contain more insight into what Edward Kelley really looked like – and something about his personality as well – than I have ever read anywhere before.  In fact, it is so fascinating I’m going to reproduce the comment here.  Enjoy!

For example, we have no clear idea what he even looked like; the only  portrait was done from “reputation” a good 60 years after his death by the Dutch engraver Franz Cleyn. It shows a gaunt, long-faced, bearded man, wearing a fur-trimmed  cloak and a four-cornered hat like a cleric’s biretta. However, this image is at odds with the few details we do have from contemporary sources. An English  visitor in the fall of 1593 commented that he was “fat and merry” and another noted that he was a “weighty” man. He walked with a stick, notoriously mentioned by Dr. Dee in his account of Kelley’s altercation with one of Laski’s guards on the morning of his first visit with the Emperor. In the angelic sessions, his difficulty in kneeling is mentioned, and most revealing of all is the Papal  Nuncio’s characterization in 1586 of Kelley as Dee’s hunch backed, “il zoppo,”  companion.

And then there is the question of his ears, or lack of them.  Simon Tadeas Budeck, a Czech alchemist and occult tattletale, of whom we will  hear more, describes Kelley as “having no ears.” Budeck however did not know  Kelley, his manuscript comments are from 1604, and so are somewhat  unreliable,  though it seems his report is partly correct. The best documented evidence is  from a letter, dated in Prague, 20 July 1593, in which an Englishman named  Christopher Parkins reports being interrogated about Kelley by one of Rudolf’s  councilors. Among the questions put to Parkins was “if I could give any account  of the diminishing of one of his ears, or of his good or evil behaviour in  England.” Parkins knew Kelley, he is the source of the fat and merry comment;  therefore it seems likely that Kelley had had just one ear notched. The  alchemist Budeck also describes him as being “long-haired,” perhaps to conceal  the disfigurement.

If we see Kelley as a long-haired, bearded, heavy-set man, with a sense of humor and a taste for the good things in life, and with a  bent or twisted back that required a stick for support, it helps not only to  humanize the legend, but perhaps also provides a few clues to his personality.  This of course does not take away from Kelley’s predilection for violence, his  hysterical rants, or his talent for insulting people. But it is very different  from the Faustian, demonic deluder of legend. Yet, this aura of unpleasantness  makes his success even harder to understand. What was it about him that held so many in his spell?

Notice how this new vision of Kelley as a “weighty” man better matches the painting of Kelley?  It is quite possible the artist was drawing on these descriptions of Kelley while also taking the woodcut into consideration.




Posted August 26, 2013 by kheph777 in enochian

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4 responses to “Will the Real Edward Kelley Please Stand Up

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  1. “Simon Tadeas Budeck, a Czech alchemist and occult tattletale …” would be my nominee for best opening of a story ever, practically regardless of how it went from there!


  2. The name Laski also appears on this painting. Here’s the listing from the catalog:


    (Click on either “grid view” or “list view”)


    seated full length at a table by a witch and her familiar (a cat), with
    inscription lower left Laski Magician on a globe and on the fore-edge of a book
    The Lyar’s Regulator, distemper on nine elm (?) boards (hinged at the centre),
    arched top, c195 x 249cm, contemporary bolection moulded frame with loss

    Condition report:

    The medium extremely fragile with numerous areas of flaking/missing paint.
    Shrinkage crackS between the boards but entirely original and unrestored, areas
    of woodworm evident on the reverse, the boards with the original horizontal
    bracing bars (one incomplete), the original rusted iron butterfly hinges and two
    substantial forged rings for suspension, original and complete. This lot is to
    be moved solely at the purchaser’s risk

    Sale date:
    Wednesday 12 & Thursday 13 June at 10.30am

    Viewing times:
    Sunday 9 12noon-5pm, Monday 10 10am-4pm, Tuesday 11 10am-2pm and mornings of
    Sale 8.30-10.30am

    Estimate: £3000-5000

    The book pictured, “Lyar’s Regulator,” doesn’t exist in any register I’ve looked in (though that may just mean its a book no one has a record of any
    more). I wish we had more of the work’s provenance… and the history behind this being labelled a painting of Kelly, when the inscription says “Laski Magician.”




  3. I stumbled upon your interesting comments re the painting of Edward Kelly. The painting has since been restored and various facts have come to light which may be illuminating. The painting was painted 1620-30 by Francis Klein and the engraving is a later work possibly using the oil and tempera as a basis. The dating of the painting followed analysis of the Elm boards and metalwork. Pigment analysis was also consistant. There is a body of work by Klein at Bolsover Castle of the same “demilune” format depicting the labours of Hercules clearly demonstrating the same hand. There are more details of “occult like” creatures flying around the witch which are fun! Should you wish to receive images and the full analysis, do let me know,


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