Medieval Fascination Explored through Illustration Exhibition

This fall, the Delaware Art Museum will debut Fantasy and the Medieval Past, on view September 25, 2021 through January 2, 2022 in the Ammon Galleries on the upper level. The exhibition draws on the Museum’s significant collection of Howard Pyle illustrations, connecting them with the contemporary Young Adult fantasy illustrations of Tony DiTerlizzi, Leo and Diane Dillon, and Ian Schoenherr.

Emily Shartrand, University of Delaware instructor and lecturer at Muhlenberg College, conceived the exhibition when she was a Museum fellow. She says, “It looks at how the American concept of fantasy in the medieval past has changed in the last century. The concept has adapted with our own, more inclusive narrative of what it meant to be medieval.”

Pyle wrote and illustrated his own versions of the King Arthur and Robin Hood legends, as well as other stories and novels that bring to life mythical quests of the Middle Ages.

Shartrand adds, “Pyle was essentially writing Young Adult books in the 19th century. He was thinking of something parents and kids could read together.”

Fantasy fiction themes often include medieval knighthood, and Pyle’s work depicts the White, male, and western perspective that was dominant in a time that is considered the golden age of illustration. Contemporary authors continue to repurpose topics such as knights while questioning the White perspective and ushering in a new era of diverse literary characters.

Heather Campbell Coyle, the Museum’s Chief Curator and Curator of American Art, says, “I’m always excited when contemporary artists engage with historical art. Howard Pyle is one of those artists that illustrators and filmmakers keep returning to, and he was always looking to the past in his own work.”

The exhibition invites visitors to compare King Arthur of Britain, an illustration Pyle made for “The Story of King Arthur and His Knights” with the real-life Black monarch artistically rendered in Mansa Musa: the Lion of Mali, written by Khephra Burns and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon.

Contemporary fantasy often represents female characters as sword-carrying adventurers, as opposed to the damsels-in-distress of classical literature. Even the perception of architecture has evolved, with contemporary books’ medieval cities and castle complexes denoting African and other non-European design and placement.

One element remains consistent: creatures such as gargoyles, dragons and unicorns continue to be mainstays in the beautifully-illustrated genre.

Contemporary America’s changing understanding of gender equality, cultural identity, disability, and difference are reflected in works such as the cover of The Ironwood Tree, The Spiderwick Chronicles Book 4, by Holly Black and co-creator/illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi. It is displayed alongside Stories and Lies, Ian Schoenherr’s illustration for Bitterblue, Graceline Realm Book 3, by Kristin Cashore.

Fantasy and the Medieval Past runs through January 2, 2022. It includes 28 works of art and six books that will transport visitors to fantastic, and diverse, medieval realms. While visiting the exhibition, illustration enthusiasts will also have the opportunity to visit new Museum galleries devoted to Howard Pyle and American Illustration, set to reopen on September 11 in the Peggy Woolard Gallery. For more information, visit

Shartrand will lead special exhibition gallery talks on October 16 at 11:30 am and 1 pm. Register at

Press Contact: Amelia Wiggins, Director of Communications & Engagement, or 302-351-8503.


WHAT: Delaware Art Museum’s Fantasy and the Medieval Past Exhibition
WHEN: Saturday, September 25, 2021 – Sunday, January 2, 2022
WHERE: 2301 Kentmere Parkway, Wilmington, DE 19806
COST: Free with Museum admission

Acknowledgement of Support:

Fantasy and the Medieval Past was organized by the Delaware Art Museum and Emily Shartrand through the support of the University of Delaware’s Lynn Herrick Sharp Curatorial Fellowship. This exhibition is made possible by the Edgar A. Thronson Foundation Illustration Exhibition Fund. Additional support is provided, in part, by a grant from the Delaware Division of the Arts, a state agency, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts. The Division promotes Delaware arts events on

About the Delaware Art Museum

For over 100 years, the Museum has served as a primary arts and cultural institution in Delaware. It is alive with experiences, discoveries, and activities to connect people with art and with each other. Originally created in 1912 to honor the renowned illustrator and Wilmington-native, Howard Pyle, the Museum’s collection has grown to over 12,000 works of art in our building and sculpture garden. Also recognized for British Pre-Raphaelite art, the Museum is home to the most comprehensive Pre-Raphaelite collection on display outside of the United Kingdom, and a growing collection of significant contemporary art.

Under the leadership of our Board of Trustees, the Delaware Art Museum is implementing a comprehensive approach to community and civic engagement. This exciting new strategic direction requires that we increase our value and relevance to all audiences. Visit to for the latest exhibitions, programs, and performances or connect with us via social media.

Image: Stories and Lies, 2012. Illustration for Bitterblue, Graceling Realm Book 3, by Kristin Cashore, (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012). Ian Schoenherr (born 1966). Ink on paper, composition: 8 3/4 x 11 1/2 inches, sheet: 9 3/4 x 12 inches. Courtesy of the artist. © Ian Schoenherr.