Juggling the Middle Ages

See how one tale has transformed over time, captivating medieval and modern audiences alike with its enduring messages. Art is miraculous!

 October 16, 2018–February 28, 2019

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A humble juggler-turned-monk struggles to think of a gift worthy of the Virgin Mary, before delivering a heartfelt juggling performance in front of her statue. If this story seems familiar, that’s because over the centuries it has inspired films, books, even an opera, and has parallels in an iconic Christmas carol. Through all these adaptations, however, the heart of the tale is never lost. At its core, the endlessly relatable story, called Le Jongleur de Notre Dame or Our Lady’s Tumbler, affirms the importance of art.

Featuring more than 100 objects, Juggling the Middle Ages explores the influence of the medieval world by focusing on this single story with a long-lasting impact. The exhibit follows the tale from its rediscovery by scholars in the 1870s to its modern interpretations in children’s books, offering viewers a look at a vast range of objects, including stained glass windows, illuminated manuscripts, household objects, and vintage theater posters.

Why have the Middle Ages exerted such a great influence on modern European and American identities, as expressed in architecture, art, music, and other media? This exhibition allows viewers to consider the role of the Middle Ages in the fashioning of modernity—from films rooted in Arthurian legend, to Gothic Revival architecture—through the lens of one powerful tale.

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The objects in the exhibit will span the Middle Ages to the present, and include books and postcards, posters and figurines, instruments and sculptures, jewelry and everyday household objects. These galleries offer a sneak peek of some of the exhibit’s featured objects.