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Bamburgh Castle grotesque. Photo by Gary Rogers via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D.
This rather distressed-looking grotesque lives on Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland, England. He sticks out his tongue and pokes at something inside his mouth, as though he’s having some dental problems. I can’t help but feel a little sorry for this odd little dude. He belongs to a subset of gargoyles and grotesques known as “mouth pullers” – figures that use one or both hands to pull their faces into strange, humorous, or disturbing shapes. Mouth pullers were common in Gothic architecture, but their meanings, like those of gargoyles and grotesques in general, are still not generally agreed upon. The oldest surviving portions of Bamburgh Castle date to somewhere around 1000, but the building has been added to, restored, and altered many times up through the present day, so it’s unclear when this grotesque was carved.

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