The Marvellous and the Monstrous in the Sculpture of Twelfth-Century Europe

April 2017
40 black and white illustrations
202 pages
24.4x17.2 cm
Boydell Studies in Medieval Art and Architecture
Library eBook
Boydell Press
BIC ACK, 1D, 2AB, 3H
BISAC ART026000, ART015030

The Marvellous and the Monstrous in the Sculpture of Twelfth-Century Europe

Kirk Ambrose


Hardback out of stock

Richly-illustrated consideration of the meaning of the carvings of non-human beings, from centaurs to eagles, found in ecclesiastical settings.
Representations of monsters and the monstrous are common in medieval art and architecture, from the grotesques in the borders of illuminated manuscripts to the symbol of the "green man", widespread in churches and cathedrals. These mysterious depictions are frequently interpreted as embodying or mitigating the fears symptomatic of a "dark age". This book, however, considers an alternative scenario: in what ways did monsters in twelfth-century sculpture help audiences envision, perhaps even achieve, various ambitions? Using examples of Romanesque sculpture from across Europe, with a focus on France and northern Portugal, the author suggests that medieval representations of monsters could service ideals, whether intellectual, political, religious, and social, even as they could simultaneously articulate fears; he argues that their material presence energizes works of art in paradoxical, even contradictory ways. In this way, Romanesque monsters resist containment within modern interpretive categories and offer testimony to the density and nuance of the medieval imagination.

Kirk Ambrose is Associate Professor & Chair, Department of Art and Art History, University of Colorado Boulder.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Approaching Monsters
Past Present
Ideal Bodies
Creating Monsters
Imagining Cosmos


An insightful and overdue study that will pave the way for future research. SPECULUM

[An] excellent work. ... Ambrose's scholarly contribution is fundamental to the progression of the study of Romanesque sculpture. MEDIEVAL REVIEW

Profound and intellectually wide-ranging. ... A book that offers both a fresh and profound perspective on monsters and a superb, original, perspective on the current state of the field and some of its central questions. BURLINGTON MAGAZINE

Fascinating. To the wonderful sculptures on which the author focuses, he brings knowledge and sound judgment. DAILY TELEGRAPH [Christopher Howse]

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