Adam Flynn

Research title: Convincing Fictions: Visual Representations of Monstrosity in Late Medieval and Early Modern Northern European Art

Research Summary

My project seeks to reassess one of the most fundamental of art historical narratives—the linear, progressive development of ‘naturalism’ in northern European art - by examining visual representations of monsters and the unnatural as complicating factors in the historical understanding of the concept of artistic ‘mimesis’ and its professed relationships to material ‘reality’.

Using iconographical and text-image analysis viewed through the lens of critical theory, and additionally informed by contemporary scientific knowledge, this research will examine a selection of visual works by northern European artists, who were the most prolific inventors of monstrous imagery. It means to demonstrate how period deployment of artistic naturalism operated to intensify the ‘reality’ of monstrous images at the same time that many images of monsters functioned as ‘objective’ representations of nature, thereby shedding new light on artistic processes of monster-making and broadening our understanding of the period complexity of monsters.

My interdisciplinary and cross-period examination of how late medieval monstrous configurations informed early modern representational strategies will advance beyond formal comparisons between early modern monsters and the marginal creatures of medieval manuscript illumination to consider the material in its wider cultural context. On a broader level, one of the principal aims of this study, therefore, will be to explicate how early modern artists not only appropriated, but radically reconceived earlier monstrous formulations and imbued them with new signifying potentials.


College of Arts Postgraduate Scholarship (2017-2020)