Gargoyles and Grotesques

I love to take photographs of gargoyles and grotesques, but do you know what the difference is between a gargoyle and a grotesque?

Gargoyles and Grotesques

What is a Grotesque?

A grotesque does not serve the purpose of filtering water away from a building in order to prevent damage to the stonework.  That is the function of a gargoyle.  It is however hard to differentiate between some gargoyles and grotesques due to erosion over the centuries or upgrades to the building that no longer required guttering.

In later centuries, grotesques altered to feature human faces who were probably people of local significance that were related to the building.  

The word grotesque was commonly used in the 18th century.  The term grotesque was coined in Italy in the late fifteenth century and can be traced back to the ancient Roman’s who painted the walls of their basements, known as grottoes.  

What is a Gargoyle?

Gargoyles are designed with the specific function of spouting water away from a building.  Usually a hole is cut into the back of it and the water pours off the roof, into the hole and out through the gargoyle’s mouth, hence why they are usually elongated in shape.  Some, if not elongated will have a spout.  The word is derived from the Latin ‘gargula’ which means throat.  These creatures would expel or gargle water away from the building thus protecting the brickwork.

Gargoyles and Grotesques

Grotesques and gargoyles prior to the sixteenth century are mainly creatures or human-animal hybrids that some find strange, ugly, unpleasant, frightening or fantastical.  It is hard to work out the true meaning of such fascinating carvings, but it is generally thought that both gargoyles and grotesques are termed as ‘apotropaic’.  In medieval times, churches and cathedrals would place these scary looking creatures above doorways and windows to protect entry of evil spirits and witches to ward them off and turn them away.

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