Ross Tidwell ’23 Captures the Metaphor of Medieval Art

The studio art major produced a 48-page graphic manuscript, brimming with medieval details.

By Britany Robinson | January 5, 2024

Medieval artists depicted locusts as lions, monsters, part-humans, and also as ordinary bugs. While studio art major Ross Tidwell ’23 could describe these fantastical creatures, they’d rather draw them.

Ross has been captivated by medieval art since their parents started bringing them to art museums as a child. The aesthetic of the period—in their words, the “vibrant colors and grandiose style”—captured their imagination. So much so that they produced a senior thesis in the form of a 48-page graphic manuscript. Titled “Monsters and Miracles: A Medieval Comic Anthology” and saturated in colors and textures of another time, the work pairs medieval-style illustrations with modern interpretations and storytelling.

The project began with countless hours of research. Ross read medieval literature, studied fashion and architecture from the period, looked at trends in current medieval scholarship, and watched movies set in the Middle Ages. Then they started sketching and writing, distilling their research into a graphic exploration of medieval art’s ability to merge the metaphorical and the real. The project is whimsical yet firmly rooted in archival research: Ross embellished each page with rich details and marginalia and included references in each panel to specific medieval manuscripts and literature. But, they also leave room for their own imagination to lead the way. One section, “The Walking Reliquary,” is Ross’s original tale of a person, mistaken for a saint, who comes back from the dead in search of their tooth after their body has been dismantled, bejeweled, and sold off as relics.

In another section, “The Shape of the Locusts,” Ross explores how a string of similes found in the New Testament’s telling of the apocalypse shape-shifted through illustrators’ various interpretations of the original text. In conclusion, Ross considers why a medieval illustrator might depict a locust as something else entirely. “Often, the distinction was insignificant,” they write. “An insect scours a field just as well as a monster.”