Our new exhibition, ‘Inventing the Future’, celebrates the Tercentenary of the Constitutions of the Freemasons. This book, now almost forgotten by non-freemasons, had a remarkable and unexpected impact.
'Inventing the Future' has two parts. In the library you can see how the Constitutions of 1723 spread from London across the world through rare examples published as it arrived in different countries.
In the South Gallery the story continues as you find out the context, content and consequences of this remarkable book.
Book of Constitutions, 1723
In a fine red morocco binding with gold tooling, this volume of the Book of Constitutions was presented to John, 2nd Duke of Montagu. Desaguliers, a Huguenot (French Protestant émigré) responsible for steering the intellectual and philosophical text of the Constitutions, included a dedication to Montagu as the first noble Grand Master. Montagu’s family crest on the cover confirms his ownership of the volume. It was donated to the Museum’s Library in 1925.
Latin dedication from James Anderson, 1723
Another Book of Constitutions from 1723 includes a Latin dedication to Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond written by the nominal author, the London-based Scottish priest Dr James Anderson, soon after its publication. The monograph includes a manuscript copy of a Papal Bull against freemasonry,
The Mystery of Masonry Brought to Light by the Gormagons, c.1724
William Hogarth’s satirical print which appeared around the time of the publication of the Constitutions, depicts James Anderson kissing the bared buttocks of an old lady on a donkey, whilst the Grand Master, the Duke of Wharton, is represented as the foolish knight, Don Quixote. A senior Freemason himself, a Grand Steward, Hogarth was not above satirising The Constitutions.
Celestial and terrestrial globes with mahogany stands, c.1785
Freemasons embraced Enlightenment thought, which stimulated a search for knowledge through scientific method and rational observation. The race to explore the world encouraged the map maker, William Bardin to include an inscription to Sir Joseph Banks, freemason and President of the Royal Society. Techniques Bardin used to develop these masterpieces derived from John Senex, the father of early-18th-century British globe making and publisher of the Book of Constitutions.
This late 18th century firing glass displays the Grand Lodge coat of arms on one side and Masonic symbolism in red and yellow enamels on the other. According to the 1723 Book of Constitutions, Dr Jean Theophilus Desaguliers, Deputy Grand Master, ‘revived’ the practice of toasting at banquets. Contemporary French ritual exposures refer to members banging the table with their glasses, which required a robust base in order to cope without breaking.
Meissen figure of a Freemason
By the mid-18th century, Freemasonry flourished across Europe. Johann Joachim Kändler, chief model maker at the Meissen porcelain factory in Germany, produced figurines representing Freemasons to attract new customers. With a red frock coat, patterned to suggest embroidered red silk, on his left-hand side, the apprentice points to working tools on a pedestal. Purchased as conversation pieces for fine homes, such luxury items were designed to impress.