Tag Archives: grotesques

Gargoyles and Grotesques

Long before we invented downspouts, the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks were worrying their pretty heads off about water damage. I’m guessing it was during a night of serious debauchery, that someone had the idea of strategically placing sculpted lion heads with spouts on the sides of buildings, thereby redirecting the flow of water from rooftops to prevent erosion. Brilliant, n’est ce pas? And so began the idea of adorning buildings with human and animal stone carvings, to protect masonry and mortar from water. They became highly popular during Medieval times, and graced the facades of many cathedrals like Notre Dame de Paris. It was believed the more grotesque looking ones served as a reminder of the evil that lurked about, while others served to protect from evil.

I have loved the troubling little faces of gargoyles and grotesques ever since I can remember, but only recently learned the difference between them. A spout. When it rains, water flows through the gargoyle’s elongated body, shoots out of its mouth through the spout, earning it the charming nickname “water vomiter.” If a stone sculpture lacks the unique ability to vomit water, it is called a grotesque. Today, however, the terms seem to be interchangeable.

When making your gargoyle/grotesque, keep in mind that a variety of human and animal forms were used. Animals were chosen for their symbolic meanings, and common ones were dogs, lions, eagles, wolves, monkeys, goats, and snakes. Some were fantasy creatures like dragons, griffins and chimeras (imaginary creature composed of body parts from different animals), while human gargoyles were often strange and humorous looking, perhaps like your Uncle Freddy.

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