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gargoyles

gargoyles A gargoyle is a waterspout designed to throw rainwater away from the walls of a building. The German term is wasserspeier (water spitter). The English word ‘gargoyle’ derives from the French gargouille and in turn from the Latin for throat, gargula. Gargoyles usually take the form of humans, animals, or grotesque combination of the two. They are found on the exterior of gothic buildings often in combination with other grotesque and marginal sculpture on corbels and parapets, which are sometimes also mistakenly called gargoyles.

Lion-head water spouts were used in classical architecture. The earliest medieval examples date from the twelfth century. Squat and few in number to begin with, by the thirteenth century gargoyles became more numerous and had developed the projecting form characteristic of gothic cathedrals. Because of their exposed position gargoyles are vulnerable to erosion, consequently most are reproductions or inventions of the restorer.

The profanity of medieval gargoyles contrast with sacred images decorating doorways and the interior of churches, though grotesque imagery on a smaller scale is found here too. This opposition is partly explicable in terms of purpose and location. Gargoyles are placed high up on buildings disgorging water, that flows along concealed channels through gaping mouths. Occasionally other orifices are employed, as at Autun Cathedral where a man appears to defecate on unwary passers-by.

Human figures usually adopt either abusive or fearful attitudes. Figures shouting or pulling their mouths open with their fingers are common. Other characters are found clinging to buildings in apparent fear, or there can be depictions of individuals who imagine they support the entire edifice. Gargoyles combining a number of figures are not uncommon. At Heckington (Lincolnshire, England) a winged devil carries off a woman. Others, derived from antiquity, pour water from large jars (e.g. St Mark's, Venice).

Until recently scholars have largely ignored or declined to interpret such images. Emile Mâle (1913) considered them meaningless. Some nineteenth-century antiquarians thought of them as pagan survivals. Recent scholarship has interpreted such sculptures as images of sin and folly or references to vernacular culture: Michael Camille calls them the opposite of angels, ‘all body and no soul — a pure projector of filth’.

Literary references include Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd, where a gargoyle, ‘too human to be called like a dragon, too impish to be like a man, too animal to be like a fiend, and not enough like a bird to be called a griffin’, vomited a stream of water ‘into the midst of Fanny Robin's grave’ scattering the repentant Troy's flowers. In Victor Hugo's Notre–Dame de Paris, Quasimodo is a living gargoyle.

With the Gothic revival the gargoyle, made redundant by the drainpipe, acquired a picturesque role. In France, Viollet–le–Duc was responsible for more gargoyles than any medieval mason, whilst Ruskin mentions them only once in more than 40 volumes, delighting in their fantastic outline, ‘when they had no work to do but open their mouths and pant in the sunshine’.

Brian O'Callaghan

Bibliography

Camille, M. (1992). Image on the edge: the margins of medieval art. Reaktion Books, London.

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gargoyle

gargoyle (gär´goil), waterspout used in medieval Europe to draw rainwater from church and cathedral roofs. Gargoyles were fashioned imaginatively in the form of human grotesques, beasts, and demonic spirits. This form of sculpture reached its peak in the Gothic period and declined with the introduction of lead drainpipes in the 16th cent.

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"gargoyle." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"gargoyle." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gargoyle

gargoyle

gargoyle. Water-spout to take water from a gutter behind a parapet away from a wall to spew it on the ground. Medieval gargoyles (sometimes mere ornaments rather than spouts) are frequently of stone, imaginatively sculpted in the form of devils, composite animals, etc.

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"gargoyle." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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gargoyle

gar·goyle / ˈgärˌgoil/ • n. a grotesque carved human or animal face or figure projecting from the gutter of a building, typically acting as a spout to carry water clear of a wall. DERIVATIVES: gar·goyled adj.

gargoyle

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"gargoyle." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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gargoyle

gargoyle XV. — OF. gargouille throat, gargoyle; of imit. orig.

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"gargoyle." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"gargoyle." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/gargoyle-1

gargoyle

gargoyleboil, Boyle, broil, coil, Dáil, Doyle, embroil, Fianna Fáil, foil, Hoyle, moil, noil, oil, roil, Royle, soil, spoil, toil, voile •parboil • trefoil • jetfoil • airfoil •cinquefoil • milfoil • tinfoil • multifoil • aerofoil • hydrofoil •counterfoil • gargoyle • turmoil •charbroil • topsoil • subsoil

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"gargoyle." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"gargoyle." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/gargoyle