Deformities and Monsters: Complicating Images of the "Other" in Early Modern Europe

Anders Finholt Kalamazoo College
Faculty Sponsor(s): Rochelle Rojas Kalamazoo College
This paper seeks to achieve an understanding of the nature of monsters by focusing on images of monstrous births in early modern Europe. Specifically, I will examine the Monster of Ravenna, a particularly intriguing and pervasive illustration in early print media that was based on a real deformed child born in 1512. This creature, like many similar monstrous births, became visually immortalized in popular and scholarly print, spreading throughout the continent and iterating shape and meaning in the imaginations of thousands. The primary means for the Monster of Ravenna’s spread was the wonder book, an early literary genre that prominently featured shocking and engaging natural images for the purposes of education, moralization, and awe. In tracking this monster’s visual presence throughout the centuries, I will show the increasing immediacy print afforded to monsters in the European imagination. This newfound relevance, epitomized in the wonder book, created a veritable cast of characters that rendered visual the cultural anxieties of Europe in this time period. Most importantly, I argue that monstrous births like the Monster of Ravenna were the perfect tools for conceptualizing societal tension due entirely to the monster’s paradoxical manifestation of the the familiar within the unfamiliar, complicating the theoretical framework of the “other” that too often distances us from the past.
Competitive Paper--All Disciplines (includes an Oral Presentation)
Competitive Paper (includes an Oral Presentation)

When & Where

09:00 AM
Jordan Hall 242