A Beginner's Field Guide to Gargyles · Art History · Gargoyle of the Day · Gargoyles · Medieval Art and Architecture

A Beginner’s Field Guide to Gargoyles, Part Two: Where and When Did Gargoyles Come From?

 

a-beginners-field-guide-to-gargoyles

Welcome back to A Beginner’s Field Guide to Gargoyles, your answer for common questions about gargoyles and grotesques. Last time, we identified what a gargoyle is and how it differs from a grotesque. Now, let’s talk about the gargoyle origin story.

Where and when do gargoyles come from?
St. Peter's Norfolk
A gargoyle at St. Peter’s Church in Norfolk, UK. Photo copyright Blosslyn (blosslynspage.wordpress.com). Used with permission.

It’s difficult to pinpoint when or where the very first gargoyle appeared, because the idea of decorating drain spouts with faces and creatures has been around for a very long time – possibly as long as 4000 years ago – and appeared in many cultures. However, the gargoyles that have most captured the popular imagination originated in medieval France and England, where they were placed on Gothic churches and other buildings between 1200 and 1500 AD.

York Minster
Gargoyles and grotesques at York Minster in York, England Photo copyright Blosslyn (blosslynspage.wordpress.com). Used with permission.

Gargoyle production declined during the Renaissance, when architecture turned away from the highly-decorated Gothic towards a simpler, classically-inspired aesthetic. During the late-18th century’s Gothic Revival, gargoyles were once again created for new Gothic-inspired buildings. Medieval gargoyles were also restored or recreated at this time. It can be difficult to tell original and revival gargoyles apart, particularly since they often exist side-by-side on surviving medieval structures. Gothic and Gothic Revival grotesques also exist alongside gargoyles but are more plentiful.

St. Mary's York
A grotesque at St. Mary’s Abbey in York, England (now the Yorkshire Museum). Photo copyright Blosslyn (blosslynspage.wordpress.com). Used with permission.

From the 19th century through the present, gargoyles have spread beyond Western Europe to all corners of the globe. Appearing on many different structures of diverse architectural styles, they take on all kinds of new shapes and characters. The majority of modern “gargoyles” are actually grotesques, though true gargoyles do still appear from time to time.

S. Mary's Rutland
A gargoyle on St. Mary’s church in Rutland, UK. Photo copyright Blosslyn (blosslynspage.wordpress.com) Used with permission.

Still to come: Where to find gargoyles, and what they look like. Same time and same place next week!

In the meantime, check out Echoes of the Past. Author and photographer Lynne (aka Blosslyn) lives in the UK and is able to visit medieval monuments on a regular basis! Her blog is full of her lovely photographs documenting her travels. All of the gargoyle images in this post (except for the Field Guide’s logo) are by Lynne and used with her permission. Thank you so much!

As always, please comment, share, and spread the gargoyle love.

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