Fragile Beasts features nearly 70 rarely seen ornament prints and drawings from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that are part of Cooper Hewitt’s permanent collection and Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Library.

Within the confines of ornamental designs, artists turned elements from nature into otherworldly beings. Creatures, fearsome or playful, graceful or rigid, take their place in dense and sinuous designs for locks, ewers, rings, tapestries, stained glass, and more. These intimately scaled works, often measuring just a few inches, are at times erotically charged and at others moralizing. Centuries later, these drawings and prints open a window to the imagination of artists and designers as the Age of Exploration unfolded around them.

highlights from the exhibition

FIND YOUR BEAST!
Discover your own fragile beasts as you color in delicate designs adapted from the prints and drawings now on view. The Fragile Beasts Coloring Book is available at SHOP Cooper Hewitt. Start coloring with these free, printable pages from the book:
Cowcumbers and Cornucopia: Rediscovering the Grotesque in Design
Lecture by Sarah Grant, Curator in the Word and Image department of London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. Talk given in conjunction with the exhibition ‘Fragile Beasts’ (on view at Cooper Hewitt June 10, 2016 through January 16, 2017). In this talk Sarah Grant gives an overview of the grotesque in all its many fanciful and...
Taming a Scaly Sphinx
An oarsman reclines on a sphinx’s scaly tail in this design for a pendant. Enameled, bejeweled, and dangling from a noblewoman’s gown, the imperious sphinx would appear fully tamed. Like the other marine monsters in this series of pendant designs by Hans Collaert, she symbolizes the sea’s abundance, harnessed by Flemish fishermen and merchants. These...
Acanthus in Motion
A lion and a hare are composed entirely of scrolling acanthus leaves in this late-seventeenth-century engraving. It is the fifth plate from a suite of six designs for gold ornament, entitled Neu-ersonnene Gold-Schmieds Grillen (New Designs for Ornaments in Gold). The acanthus motif, whose origins date to ancient Greece and Rome, was omnipresent in European...
book cover with colorful Renaissance monsters
Fragile Beasts Coloring Book
Edited by Caitlin Condell, Assistant Curator of Drawings, Prints & Graphic Design Illustrated by Magali An Berthon Discover hidden monsters and awaken serpents, chimeras, dragons, and gargoyles in this coloring book inspired by grotesque ornament prints from the 16th and 17th centuries. Animals become alternately ferocious or docile as you color in these delicate designs...