THE STRANGE AND MYSTERIOUS ROLE OF THE MONSTER IN THE MIDDLE AGES IS THE SUBJECT OF NEW MORGAN EXHIBITION

e Taming the Tarasque, from Hours of Henry VIII, France, Tours, ca. 1500. e Morgan Library & Museum, MS H.8, fol. 191v, detail. Photography by Graham S. Haber, 2013.

Siren, from Abus du Monde ( e Abuses of the World), France, Rouen, ca. 1510, e Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.42, fol. 15r. Photography by Janny Chiu, 2017.

 

 

Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders June 8 through September 23, 2018

Undoubtedly the best exhibition I have seen in New York this year, equal to The American Folk Art Museum’s “Vestiges and Verse” which closed a few weeks ago.

The Morgan Library in New York presents an exhibition of manuscripts, tapestry, grimoires and objects whom illustrate monsters in three themes, “Terrors”, “Aliens” and “Wonders”.  The works themselves, various in scale, were impeccably culled by guest curators Sherry C. M. Lindquist and Asa Simon Mittman from the medieval collection of the Morgan Library, New York’s Metropolitan Museum and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. What an astonishing, unforgettable exhibition they have put together.

The exhibition catalog is nothing short of exemplary.  A coffee table sized book with an eye-popping  cover, it will surely draw the attention of anyone with genuine interest in esoterica, the occult or the prophetic, and the catalog itself is a thing of great beauty.

Having said that, reproductions and secondary media do not even come close to the experience of seeing these work in the flesh, and why it is essential for anyone who wants their third eye opened even slightly to allow in a shade brighter of astral light to see this show first hand.

Installation view of “Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders” at the Morgan Library and Museum.

Installation view of “Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders” at the Morgan Library and Museum.

Installation view of “Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders” at the Morgan Library and Museum.

Installation view of “Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders” at the Morgan Library and Museum.

Installation view of “Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders” at the Morgan Library and Museum.

Installation view of “Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders” at the Morgan Library and Museum.

Installation view of “Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders” at the Morgan Library and Museum.

Installation view of “Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders” at the Morgan Library and Museum.

Installation view of “Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders” at the Morgan Library and Museum.

Installation view of “Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders” at the Morgan Library and Museum.

Installation view of “Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders” at the Morgan Library and Museum.

 

Get to the Morgan Library and Museum and see them, you will not be disappointed.

All the hundreds of subtleties,  that’s where the real magic is.  The reflectiveness and density of the paint, the handmade ink and paper, the devoted human hand being evident in all it’s imperfection in the illustrations,  the ripple of the pages, the thickness and the visual weight of the books,  the imagined smell of them, all these and so many more sensations firing at our eyes while we absorb the psychic elements of the illustrations.

To know what these illustrations are all about, one would have to study the catalog before hand. As people who are not scholars in this material, we look at these works and the archetypal aspects of the imagery speak to us through our subjective experience.  Therein manifest a beautiful and timeless sense of mystery in the images.

These are treasures, and going through this exhibition is an amazing enriching experience.

 

  

Press release from the Morgan Library and Museum.

New York, NY,  –  From dragons, unicorns, and other fabled beasts to inventive hybrid creations, artists in the Middle Ages filled the world around them with marvels of imagination. Their creations reflected a society and culture at once captivated and repelled by the idea of the monstrous. Drawing on the Morgan Library & Museum’s superb medieval collection as well as loans from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders—on view beginning June 8examines the complex social role of monsters in medieval Europe. It brings together approximately seventy works spanning the ninth to sixteenth centuries, and ranging from illuminated manuscripts and tapestry to metalwork and ivory.

The show explores three key themes:

“Terrors” demonstrates how monsters enhanced the aura of those in power, whether rulers, knights, or saints. “Aliens” reveals 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 on “wonders” considers the strange beauties and frightful anomalies such as dragons, unicorns, or giants that populated the medieval world. The show runs through September 23, 2018. Following its exhibition at the Morgan, it will travel to the Cleveland Museum of Art from July 14 to October 6, 2019 and the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin from October 27, 2019 to January 12, 2020.

“In the medieval world the idea of the monstrous permeated every level of society,” said Colin B. Bailey, director of the Morgan Library & Museum, “from rulers, and the nobility and the clergy, to agrarian and urban dwellers alike. Artists of the Middle Ages captured this phenomenon in images of beings at once familiar and foreign to today’s viewer. We are grateful to our guest curators Asa Simon Mittman and Sherry Lindquist for helping us bring this engrossing subject to the public.”

THE EXHIBITION

e Taming the Tarasque, from Hours of Henry VIII, France, Tours, ca. 1500. e Morgan Library & Museum, MS H.8, fol. 191v, detail. Photography by Graham S. Haber, 2013.

I. Terrors

Throughout the Middle Ages, rulers capitalized on the mystique of monsters to enhance their own aura of power. In medieval art, they often depicted themselves—or figures with whom they could identify—as righteous heroes demonstrating their worthiness by slaying the most frightful creatures imaginable. By embellishing all manner of luxury objects with monstrous imagery, the nobility and clergy could also reinforce and dramatize their own authority. Such fearsome motifs were often thought to have not only a symbolic potency but also actual power in warding off evil.

Because of their ability both to terrify and to inspire awe, monsters could even be used to evoke the divine. From headless saints to three-headed trinities, these “sacred terrors” vividly bring to life the power of monsters to bridge the gap between the natural and the supernatural. Ultimately, the monsters in this section offer us a glimpse into how people in the Middle Ages perceived relationships of power, whether earthly or divine.

Initial V, from Twelve Minor Prophets, Northeastern France, 1131-1165, e Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.962, fol. 55r. Photography by Janny Chiu, 2017.

 

Detail from Tapestry with Wild Men and Moors, Alsace, Strasbourg, ca. 1440, linen and wool slit tapestry, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Charles Potter Kling Fund. Photograph © 2017 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. All Rights Reserved.

II. Aliens

In the modern world, the term alien is most strongly associated with extraterrestrials. In the Middle Ages, however, aliens were very much inhabitants of our world. Deriving from the Latin word for “foreign” or “exotic,” an alien was simply a person or thing from somewhere else. For medieval men and women, the various peoples thought to live on the other side of the world were just as unreachable, and therefore unknowable, as Martians would be to us. At times, these aliens were the subject of titillating speculation; other times they were sources of fear or objects of derision.

As in other eras, monstrous imagery could be used to stigmatize those perceived to deviate from the norm. This held true not only for “strangers” to medieval Christian societies—most notably, Jews and Muslims—but also for those who were marginalized within their own communities. Women, the poor, the mentally ill or physically impaired could all be made monstrous by medieval artists. Such representations helped define the difference between those who were accepted and those who were cast aside. Confronting these at times difficult images reminds us of the ability of the visual arts to shape our perceptions of others.

III. Wonders

e Whore of Babylon, from Morgan Apocalypse, London, England, ca.1255, e Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.524, fol. 16v. Photography by Graham S. Haber 2017.

For medieval viewers, monsters could also inspire a sense of wonder and marvel as a transformative response to strange, surprising, or mysterious phenomena. During the Middle Ages, wonders were only as significant as their authenticity, which could be confirmed either by eye-witness accounts or by the authority of venerable authors. The difficulty of disentangling truth from fiction became a common theme, giving rise to entire genres of text that claimed to catalogue the various phenomena of the world: from herbals and bestiaries to travel accounts.

Capable of shifting expectations and perceptions, monsters inspired viewers to reconsider their place in the world. These fantastical creatures were often so unpredictable and prevalent in the cultural imagination that it is often hard to judge whether they reinforce or disrupt the norms of the time. This exhibition invites visitors to consider what medieval monsters can teach us about the cultures that created them.

St. Christopher Carries Christ Child, from Book of Hours, Belgium, Bruges, ca. 1520, e Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.307, fol. 160v. Photography by Graham S. Haber, 2017.

e Annunciation as an Allegorical Unicorn Hunt, Germany, Eichstätt, ca. 1500, e Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.1201. Photography by Janny Chiu, 2017.

Publication

The accompanying catalogue, Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders, features full-page reproductions of 61 works in the exhibition, a Director’s Foreword by Colin B. Bailey, a preface by China Miéville, and essays by Sherry C. M. Lindquist and Asa Simon Mittman.

Author: Sherry C. M. Lindquist, Asa Simon Mittman
Publisher: The Morgan Library & Museum, in association with D Giles Limited. 175 pages.

St. Firmin Holding His Head, France, Amiens, ca. 1225-75, limestone and pigment, e Metropol- itan Museum of Art, acc. nr. 36.81, image copy- right © e Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY.

John the Baptist, from Prayer Scroll, Percival, Canon (active 1500), England, Yorkshire, ca. 1500, e Mor- gan Library & Museum, MS G.39 section 9. Photography by Graham S Haber 2017.

 

Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew, from Hungarian Anjou legendary single leaves, Italy or Hungary, 1325-1335, e Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.360.21. Photography by Janny Chiu, 2017.

Ethiopia, from Marvels of the World, France, possibly Angers, ca. 1460, e Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.461, fol. 26v. Photography by Janny Chiu, 2018.

Wild man, woman, and child, from Book of Hours, Belgium, ca. 1490, e Morgan Library & Museum, MS S.7 fol. 30r. Photography by Graham S. Haber, 2017.

Mint, Mummy, and Mandrake, from Compendi- um Salernitanum, Northern Italy, possibly Venice, 1350-1375, e Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.873, fol. 61v. Photography by Graham S. Haber, 2017.

Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders

exhibition catalog available here