Saint Monsters

2016 Corruption . . . it was a sign of god’s displeasure. For Catholics and Protestants, that meant the corruption of church doctrine by each other’s institutions along with sin perpetuated by the general populace. And visible signs of that corruption were “monsters.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the etymology for the word monster comes from first half of the 13th century and describes a “disfigured person” or “misshapen being.” And as exploration and scientific inquiries brought forth new discoveries like the rhinoceros (think Dürer), artists depicting the creature relied on descriptions, so illustrations were often wildly inaccurate . . . more corruptions . . . more monsters. We now know that many of the “monsters” held up as corruptions by the church had genetic disorders such as Roberts syndrome. For a society in which all mankind were derived from Adam, this posed a quandary and a solution. Obviously, “monsters” shared a lineage . . . normal mothers gave birth to them. So, the simple conclusion follows that it was due to god’s displeasure. With this series, I hope to reclaim or recast these maligned “monsters” as the true saints. The source materials are from religious pamphlets and early scientific books. The monsters garnered from these sources are then coupled with various representations of traditional saints, from Russian Orthodox icons to representational paintings of particular stories. Hopefully, these Saint Monsters throw a bit of light on a real corruption, which is any authoritative institution that wields power by coercion and fear.

This series showed during October, 2016 at the Tim Faulkner Gallery in Louisville.
Sanctum Monstrum Mirabile (2016) . . . Graphite, acrylic, ink, coffee and gold leaf on 16" x 20" art board.   
My first Saint Monster is based on a deformed creature from Ulisse Aldrovandi’s Historia Monstrorum (1642).  A translation of the Latin caption for this creature reads: “A human creature (monster, wicked supernatural thing, etc.). One-headed, born in the Ferraran land, with four arms and the same number of hands. It has six fingers on each hand and an upturned chest entwined.” Translated by S. Kershner.
Sanctum Animal Africanum Deforme (2016) . . . Graphite, acrylic, ink, and gold leaf on 16" x 20" art board.
The floating balloon monster is based on a drawing in Ulisse Aldrovandi’s Historia Monstrorum (1642) called “Animal Africanum Deforme.”  The background is a loose interpretation of The Hay Harvest (1565) by Peter Brueghel the Elder.   Wikipedia says that this painting “represents a pinnacle of Western art. For the first time in Western art, landscape is no longer just a backdrop or a setting for Biblical subjects. Instead, it appears in its own right.”  Ironically, I didn’t stumble upon this description until my painting was finished.
Madonna and Child (2016) . . . Graphite, acrylic, ink, and gold leaf on 15" x 20" art board. 
My take on the Eastern Orthodox icon replaces the Virgin Mary and infant Christ with a crane-headed man from Ulisse Aldrovandi’s Historia Monstrorum (1642) and the Hydra from Conrad Gesner’s Historia Animalium (1558).
IC XC is an abbreviation for Jesus Christ and the letters MP OY abbreviate the Greek “Mother of God.”  
Sanctum Monstrum Ravennae (2016) . . . Graphite, acrylic, ink, and gold leaf on 16" x 20" art board. 
"We had heard that a monster had been born at Ravenna, of which a drawing was sent here; it had a horn on its head, straight up like a sword, and instead of arms it had two wing like a bat’s, and the height of its breasts it had a fio [Y-shaped mark] on one side and a cross on the other, and lower down at the waist, two serpents, and it was a hermaphrodite, and on the right knee it had an eye, and its left foot was like an eagle . . . "(Luca Landucci, 1512).
Many believe what is described here was probably a case of Roberts’s syndrome. But at the time, it was seen as a sign of misfortune and corruption, some even said it was the offspring of a nun and a friar. It was such a sensation that Pope Julius II ordered it starved to death. Images of the Monstrum Ravennae in drawings, paintings, and pamphlets proliferated and spread across Europe as the image itself mutated, taking on different meanings and interpretations.   (Armand Marie Leroi. Mutants. Viking, 2003.)
My source image of Monstrum Ravennae is of a later depiction by Giovanni Battista de’ Cavalieri (from 1585).  The pose of the Monster of Ravenna lent itself to being a crucifix, and thus I added some stigmata and lacerations, recalling the wounds of Christ.
St. Sebastian (2016) . . . Graphite, acrylic, ink, and gold leaf on 16" x 20" art board.   
The figure “Monstrum hermaphroditicum pedibus aquilinis” (hermaphroditic monster with eagle foot) is from Ulisse Aldrovandi’s Historia Monstrorum (1642). For reasons I never discovered, this monster was depicted with arrows in its side. Thus, it was an obvious choice to portray it as Saint Sebastian. The background for mine is loosely based on Botticelli’s background in his St. Sebastian (1472).
The Kraków Monster as the Virgin of Guadalupe  (2016) . . . Graphite, acrylic, ink, coffee and gold leaf on 15" x 20" art board.  
This piece is loosely based on a Virgin of Guadalupe circa 1700s (although there were earlier depictions) with the cherubs in the border replaced by figures with deformities based on Ulisse Aldrovandi’s Historia Monstrorum (1642).  The central monster is based on Fortunio Liceti’s Kraków monster from his 1616 Monstrorum Natura Caussis et Differentiis. In his Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body, Armand Marie Leroi describes the monster of Kraków as “an inexplicably deformed child who apparently entered the world in 1540 with barking dogs’ heads mounted on its elbows, chest, and knees and departed it four hours later declaiming ‘Watch, the Lord Cometh” (6-7).
Fishers of Men (2016) . . . Graphite, acrylic, ink, coffee and gold leaf on 16" x 20" art board.   
This saint painting is based on Duccio’s The Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew (c. 1308-1311) with the figure of Christ replaced by a Sea Monk and Peter and Andrew replaced by Sea Bishops by Ulisse Aldrovandi’s Historia Monstrorum (1642).  My Sea Monk-Christ’s nimbus has Greek letters OΩN meaning “He that is.”
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