“Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders,” at The Morgan Library & Museum (through September 23): Fiery dragons, wild beasts, man-animal hybrids, gargantuan sea monsters: these fantastical beings have endured through the centuries as visual evidence of the imaginative and highly supernatural culture of the European Middle Ages. All too often, however, the creatures that litter medieval art and manuscripts are simplistically invoked as evidence of the backwater irrationality that ruled those supposedly primitive societies. On now through September 23 at The Morgan Library & Museum (@themorganlibrary), “Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders” argues for a far more complex understanding of the medieval use of monsters in its visual lexicon—primarily, that (by opposition) they reinforced cultural norms of civilization and expected behavior. Hosting depictions from the hairy, ape-like “wild men” that early explorers claimed to have encountered in their travels to St. Martha’s fish-like Tarasque to heavily caricaturized Jews and Muslims that themselves landed on the “subhuman” spectrum, this exhibition of more than sixty objects (including manuscripts, sculpture, tapestry, and more) is as historically instructive as it is visually exquisite. —AS
Taming the Tarrasque, from the Hours of Henry VIII, ca. 1500, Illuminated manuscript, The Morgan Library & Museum.