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The Cleveland Museum of Art presents Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders

CLEVELAND: 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 1500s.

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.”

Medieval Monsters: 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 their viewers.

On the Internet: www.ClevelandArt.org



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