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Monsters in Medieval Art at the Cloisters, NYC

Knight slaying monster in art at the Cloisters in Fort Tryon ParkArtsology visited the Cloisters in New York City, which houses the Metropolitan Museum's collection of European Medieval art. One of the things 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.

This painting, at left, 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.

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: 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.

Let's take a closer look at this creature ... 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 painting of a monster being killed by a knight

Here's another work of art at the Cloisters, in this case 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, we see another stained glass window at the Cloisters depicting a crusading angel also stabbing her spear down the throat of a horrible monster. If you scroll down and look to your right, we've flipped the image clockwise and zoomed in for a look at this beastly monster. What great imaginations these medieval artists had!

stained glass depicting angel in crusade, stabbing monster
stained glass window with medieval art monster

stained glass detail of monster from medieval art

Here are some additional pictures of various monsters, creatures and beasts as seen at the Cloisters in New York City.
medieval painting of a dragon snake
A medieval painting of a mythological dragon snake creature.
medieval relief sculpture of a cow with wings
A relief sculpture of a ... cow with wings.
medieval sculpture of a lion
A lion-like creature with a smaller creature peeking its head out of the lion's chest with another animal riding on its back.
medieval relief sculpture of a dog and snake at the Cloisters in NYC
A relief sculpture of a dog-like creature standing over a snake.

Salvador Dali at Artsology Artsology offers free online games about the arts, and delivers investigations into topics in the visual arts, music, and literature. Artsology is a good resource for fun learning about the arts for people of all ages and is enjoyed by students, homeschoolers, and adults. Follow us on Twitter or become a fan of our Facebook page.Miles Davis at Artsology

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