Hart, Vaughan. Art and Magic in the Court of the Stuarts. London; New York: Routledge, 1994.

(excerpted by Clifford Stetner)



?The Invisible Lady styled the Magical Sister of the Rosicross...'          



For the Neoplatonist ...the esoteric pictorial art of emblematics had the power to encapsulate the science or underlying order of the natural world and represent absolute human virtues of reason, justice, and the like. In particular the alchemical conception of nature was signified through this symbolic language, in which a fountain could stand for the purification of metals, Christ for the philosopher?s stone, a dragon for fire or regeneration, and marriage for the union of opposites.


There was never a coherent magical philosophy in the Renaissance, as has often been implied, but forms of it were united under the terms Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, Cabalism, and occultism. ...pursued throughout the Middle Ages ...new force in the Renaissance...

...Christian Cabalist hoped that through such divinely inspired intellectual magic ...conditions on earth for nothing less than the second coming would be created.


...Neoplatonism... relationship to humanism and science... notoriously problematic... influence of philosophical magic on the art-forms patronised by Renaissance monarchy. ... operative magical arts... astrology and alchemy, geomancy and necromancy...

...Court artist as neither a purveyor of aesthetic satisfaction nor the creator of beauty for beauty?s sake alone. Instead he becomes an artist of symbol and cosmology, a messenger of the king?s self-image and Court mythology. For the key task of Renaissance Court artists, whether architects, engineers, or poets, was to construct the royal image... as Medici art-works exemplify...

...the most profound aspect of this power expressed by art was the rulers apparent magical ability to perfect nature.

Neoplatonic philosophy had an important influence on the image ot imperial monarchy in late sixteenth-century Europe, as is evidenced in the studies and arts patronised by various Courts.  Hermetic-Cabalist philosophy informed the Court art of both Philip II in Spain and his uncle, Rudolf II, at Prague ? both of them studied intellectual magic. Prague became a centre for alchemical, astrological, and Cabalistic studies of all kinds.? During the sixteenth century the French academies also provided a focus for aspects of the Neoplatonic Renaissance in northern Europe, and a stimulus to ethical reform through the revival of supposed antique music with its magical properties based on numerical harmonies. ...Court of ...Bohemia ? Frederick V, Elector Palatine of the Rhine, and Princess Elizabeth, daughter of James I was briefly projected as the setting for Protestant alchemical-Hermetic aspirations to a return to Adam?s purity and state of grace.


...1603 to the execution of Charles I in 1649. ...courtiers including Francis Bacon... Duke of Buckingham... Archbishop William Laud and John Donne were clearly influenced by aspects of Neoplatonism. ...decline of practical magic in Britain throughout the seventeenth century ... Court artists including the cooperative projects of the dramatist Ben Jonson and the so-called ?Vitruvius Britannicus?, Inigo Jones.

The animating philosophy behind these Stuart arts, Neoplatonism in its various forms, had been introduced into Britain primarily through the importation of books and through visits both to and from the country by a number of Neoplatonism?s leading exponents. John Colet, Dean of St Paul?s from 1504, studied the works of Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola ... Agrippa ...1510 ...Dean?s guest at St Paul?s.? ...Bruno lived in England between 1584 and 1586 ...attempting to forge links between the French and English Courts.  The ?Rosicrucian? publisher Theodore De Bry ... in England ...in 1587... James ... visited ... Tycho Brahe at ...Denmark between 1589 and 1590. ...marvelled at his works...


Neoplatonism found early expression in Tudor poetry in particular. For in composing the poetic conception of Elizabeth as the Fairy Queen. the legends of a magical Britain were given new force through being linked to themes drawn from Platonic cosmology. Spenser?s ... and Hymnes (1596) represent Neoplatonic eulogies to the Elizabethan age... George Chapman?s ... Shadow of Night (1594) ... virgin queen as the moon, endowed with an ?enchantresse-like?, ?magick authoritie?....


Dee?s Platonic-Pythagorean-inspired arts and the Neoplatonic imagery of Elizabethan poetry flowed into the Stuart Renaissance as a whole, laying the foundations for the magic of the Court masques... in which Jones?s architectural backdrops harmonised with the enactment of Platonic love eulogised in Jonson?s poetry.

...few have recognised the importance in the Stuart period of Neoplatonism to Court art as an aspect of its role as royalist propaganda. ... mystical politics celebrated through art. ...propagandist purpose and magical reforming power of art-works...the Stuart Court itself constantly made these explicit in the masque.


The white powers of the king and his perfect emblem of harmony, the Court ... banished black magic identified with the imperfect country at large as the harbinger of witchcraft and, later, the dark forces of revolution.

... The Tempest was performed at Court by the ?King?s Men? before their patron, James I, on the first day of November 1611. It projected a vision of white magic as a means by which the natural order might be restored, virtue and authentic rule being characterised by Prospero himself as a displaced nobleman. ...acceptable to James when used to reaffirm the monarch?s natural position at the head of the cosmic order, and unacceptable when advocated as an agent of reform or used to challenge the monarchy, as in the case of witchcraft which James certainly thought unnatural, and therefore illegal...extensive study of the subject...


Contrary to this rational trend, the Elizabethan conception of a magic Albion ruled by a Fairy Queen was inherited by the Stuarts and represented throughout their rule. As late as 1637 in William Davenant?s masque Britannia Triumphans the return of ...Merlin, was still forecast. The European Platonic Renaissance was thus fused with national magical legend and projected first by the Elizabethan and later, more coherently, by the Stuart Court as a vital sign of the status of Britain as God?s chosen land, home of the purified faith of Protestantism.


...forms of art patronised by the Stuarts, including masques, heraldry, gardens, architecture, musical harmony, and processions ... embodied a magical understanding of nature through references to the Renaissance cosmology broadly described as Neoplatonism. Within the emblematics of this philosophy an artifact may either have merely pictured magical themes, or ? since the artistry of an object included the science of its making ? might itself have carried a talismanic virtue through its embodiment of geometry or harmonic proportions reflecting Platonic- Pythagorean cosmology ...that is, the art of magic and the magic of art.