Monsters in Medieval Art at the Cloisters, NYC

Artsology visited the Cloisters in New York City, which houses the Metropolitan Museum's collection of European Medieval art. One thing that caught our attention was the number of fantastic creatures, or more simply, monsters, that were depicted in various works of art throughout the museum.


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This painting, below, especially caught our attention, with its depiction of a knight slaying a fantastic creature, man-like with its face, arms, torso and legs, but monster-like with its beastly body parts. Let's take a closer look at this creature - we've got the full picture on the left, and a close-up detail on the right. The spear is going right through his mouth and down through his jaw ... and he seems to have a smile on his face as this is taking place. Meanwhile, his chest is another smiling beast-face, and even his legs are depicted as animal-like monster faces, leading down to skinny calves that connect not to feet but bloody hands!

Medieval knight slaying a monster at the Cloisters

Doing a little research, we found that some medieval art was meant to glorify the Crusades, which were a series of military campaigns waged by Christians against non-Christians in the 16th Century. It has been suggested that the monsters in art of this time were meant to depict non-Christian people in an extreme way, as if this would help convince viewers of the righteousness of the Christian campaigns.

If you ask us, that's exactly what we have going on here in the above image: we have a knight with a halo around his head to depict his holiness, and he's slaying a human "beast." Good vs. evil, plain and simple.


Here's another pair of art works (below) from the Cloisters featuring monsters. Below left we have a stained glass window, which shows another fantastic monster. In this case, the monster is assertively causing havoc, having hoisted what one must assume is supposed to be a Christian woman (due to her lack of any fantasy-like features) and is gleefully taking her away. Once again, we have the depiction of a creature that has multiple beastly heads serving as body parts.

Looking closely, one can see the bearded head on top of a normal torso, but accompanied by reptile-like arms, and a mid-section which features another bearded monster face. The legs are both consisting of animal-like monsters eating arms with hands that take the place of legs and feet.

Below right, we see another stained glass window at the Cloisters depicting a crusading angel also stabbing her spear down the throat of a horrible monster. We've isolated and flipped the image clockwise and zoomed in (see bottom insert under red arrow) for a look at this beastly monster. What great imaginations these medieval artists had!

two headed monster in medieval art at the Cloisters

angel on a religious crusade killing monsters in Medieval art at the Cloisters

Here are some additional pictures of various monsters, creatures and beasts as seen at the Cloisters in New York City.

Below left we have a medieval painting of a mythological dragon or snake-like creature, and below that we have a lion-like creature alongside what appears to be a gargoyle. Below right we have a wolf-like creature with a big grin standing over what looks like a serpent-like monster.

monsters in medieval art at the Cloisters

dog-like monster in Medieval art at the Cloisters

The Cloisters isn't always such a convenient place to visit, as it's located in the far northwest corner of Manhattan, in Fort Tryon Park. But if you get a chance to go, we highly recommend it!




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