In a world where movies and television are fixated on vampires, zombies and other unearthly creatures, I may have just found the next “BIG” art collecting trend – gargoyles!
The gargoyle has never really received the respect it’s due. Located high at the top of medieval buildings, its beauty is rarely visible to the people on the street below. It is only when you have the chance to climb up onto the roofs of castles, churches and cathedrals that you can start to appreciate these intricate works of art created as utilitarian water spouts. The name for these monsters is related to the fact one can hear the “gurgle” of the water coming from their throats!
The ancient world used waterspouts in the form of animal masks to protect their buildings and to act as guardians in safeguarding their inhabitants. Later in the Middle Ages, these animal masks turned into the fearsome creatures. Dragons, devils, and birds of prey conjure up the nightmares of stonemasons. And as Christianity spread to the new world, so did Gothic architecture along with the gargoyle that added native American fauna like turtles, alligators and armadillos to their ranks. During the Renaissance creatures of good – like lions and dogs – were favored as being powerful enough to scare away evil on their own.
And just to show that architects and stonemasons do have a sense of humor, on the roof of the cathedral in Palencia, Spain, a gargoyle peers over the side holding an early camera. According to legend, it’s an addition from about 1910 in which the architect pays tribute to a late friend (main image).
Today gargoyles have come down off their high perches and can be admired as great works of sculpture. I was surprised to visit a client who had two in his living room displayed along side riotous contemporary artwork. Proof again that wonderful things from all ages can easily be incorporated into a home given the quality of the work and the owner’s daring. And while many of these monster gargoyles have spent centuries outdoors, I would caution anybody from placing them in their garden where the elements (and acid rain) might bring about a degradation of their investment.
richard rabel: interiors + art
interior design and art advising
new york city
image credits: AKG, Alamy, Bridgeman, Camera Press, Centre des Documents Nationaux, Corbis, Getty, Pedro Pegenaute.
Location (from top to bottom): photographer/Palencia Cathedral, Spain; roundel with tongue/Westminster Abbey, London; corner monster with headgear/Notre Dame Cathedral, Rouen, France; winged devil/St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cork, Ireland; psycho monkey/Plasencia Cathedral, Caceres, Spain; winged dog/Palencia Cathedral, Spain.