Cleveland Museum of Art presents Medieval Monsters: Terrors,
Organized by The Morgan Library & Museum, Medieval
Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders—the first exhibition
of its kind in North America—explores the complex social roles
of monsters in the Middle Ages.
Featuring about 60 illuminated manuscripts from the Morgan’s
renowned collection, the free exhibition includes
devotional, liturgical and secular works spanning the 800s to
Complementing these works are a selection of sculpture, prints
and illuminated manuscripts from the CMA’s superb collection of
antiquities and medieval art. The exhibition prompts viewers to
consider the function of monsters in medieval art, how they were
received by their intended viewers and how they served as a way
of engaging with the foreign, the unknown and the supernatural.
Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders is on view
July 7 through October 6, 2019 in the Kelvin and Eleanor Smith
Foundation Exhibition Gallery.
From dragons, unicorns and other fabled beasts to hybrid
creations combining wings, tails and limbs in inventive ways,
medieval artists drew on an encyclopedic knowledge of
monstrosities to fill the world around them.
As divine lessons, monsters were thought to be signs of
something gone awry in the social order. Unlike today’s
monsters, they were not made to frighten or entertain. Instead,
medieval artists adapted their monsters to suit a variety of
purposes—offering protection, criticizing authority, embodying
social anxieties or giving shape to the unknown—forming an
essential part of medieval culture.
Some of the sumptuously decorated works on view were illuminated
by notable artists such as Jean Poyer and Simon Bening,
or belonged to, or associated with, well-known patrons including
Henry VIII of England, Anne of Brittany, Yolande de Soissons,
and Catherine of Cleves.
“Visitors to Medieval Monsters will encounter creatures
that will surprise, disconcert and delight with their
inventiveness, bawdiness and beauty,” said Heather Lemonedes,
deputy director and chief curator. “We invite audiences to
enjoy a rich array of illuminated manuscripts on loan from the
Morgan Library & Museum, and to see works of art owned by the
Cleveland Museum of Art in an entirely new context.”
Terrors, Aliens, Wonders
leads viewers through three sections based on the ways monsters
functioned in medieval societies. “Terrors” explores how
monsters enhanced the power of the elites, be they rulers,
knights or saints. A second section, “Aliens,”
demonstrates how marginalized groups in European societies—such
as Jews, Muslims, women, the poor and the disabled—were further
alienated by being depicted as monstrous.
The final section, “Wonders,” considers a group of strange
beauties and frightful anomalies that populated the medieval
world. Whether employed in ornamental or contemplative settings,
these beings were meant to inspire a sense of marvel and awe in
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