Monsters at the Museum

I went to the Frick Museum this afternoon. With the sunlight streaming through the skylights of the robber baron’s Fifth Avenue mansion and a great special exhibit of Renoir’s full-length portraits, it was a wonderful day for art. It was also a unique opportunity to hunt for improbable monsters.

Setting aside the monstrous record of Henry Clay Frick when dealing with his company’s workers, there were many wondrous monsters on display. You just have to look beyond Frick’s magnificent collection of paintings and pay attention to the small bronzes that are scattered on tables throughout the museum.

This is not an easy feat. I’ve been going to the Frick most of my life and I have trouble pulling myself out of the room with the Giovanni Bellini St. Francis in the Desert, surround by Titans and facing the El Greco framed by two Holbeins. I think I spent an entire month there when I was in college.

But today, I bravely pulled myself away from the paintings and focused on the sculptures in the collection. I ‘discovered’ Severo da Ravenna (1496 – 1543) and fell under his spell. There were several pieces in the collection, but the Sea Monster was an over-the-top creature that spoke to my heart.
(See Link Below.)$0040:684

Although my monster hunt was over, I did spot a very curious — and very science fiction-y — image in another work of art, when I looked deeply into the background of ‘The Adoration of the Magi’ by Lazzaro Bastiani (1425-1512). (See Link Below)

Up above the hilltop where you can see a tiny man on horseback, you’ll also find six platforms holding figures. You might be tempted to call them angels, but they are curiously lacking in the usual angelic details and the platforms appear to hover in space.$0040:37

What does this mean? I have no idea. But I LIKE it. Next time I’m at the Frick I’m going to focus on the backgrounds in Italian paintings. Maybe I can find an alien being or a monster among the peasants and farmers?

Monsters are, after all, just about everywhere.


  1. OMG! I used that zoomify tool and if you look right at the very top of the painting, just below the frame, there is either a blemish or…something that looks vaguely like a sailing ship with sails?!? And you’re so right, no halos, no beatific expressions on the hoverers. They look for all the world like tourists on flying platforms with guardrails? stopping them from falling off. That is amazing Candy!

    • Candy

      I’ve always enjoyed the ‘backdrops’ landscapes’ in paintings. You never know what you’ll find.

  2. A Covan

    That sea monster reminds me of John W. Campbell, Jr.’s novella, “who goes there?” made into several movie versions as, “the thing”

    • Candy

      It does! Classic monsters have a way of ‘recycling.’ Is it a group unconscious memory or a myth that is so old that it’s part of being human?