Gargoyles, A Historical Perspective

Best known for their menacing presence in 12th-century Gothic architecture, the first Gargoyle statues were carved 4000 years earlier in ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece. The word “gargoyle” is derived from the old French word “Gargouille,” which means, “throat.” This is because, originally, gargoyle sculptures were functional rainspouts, and only later did these statues serve as spiritual guardians against evil, protecting the cathedral or building they adorned. Because gargoyles also represented evil and mischief, the Catholic Church commissioned gargoyle statues on their cathedrals also to warn recent converts about proper, Christian behavior, because the vast majority of the population was illiterate.


Throughout history, gargoyle statues have manifested in many different forms. The most common gargoyle statues were grotesques—also known as chimeras—part human and part beast. Gargoyle sculptures were carved with the faces of friends and family as architectural homages. In Medieval architecture, Gargoyles were often grotesque animals carved from stone, iron, or lead, usually depicted ready to leap or take flight. These chimeras, such as our Catgoyle on the Loose, were prominent during medieval times.


Notre Dame is the most famous cathedral known for its architectural grotesques and gargoyles. Constructed in Paris during the Early Gothic Era (1163-1285), the abundance of gargoyles and architectural construction is credited to Viollet-le-Duc, the architect whose life work would become the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Viollet-le-Duc’s famous gargoyles serve artistic purposes only—symbolic, religious, decorative, and whimsical statues that adorn the Paris landmark’s façade. The Spitting Gargoyle of Notre Dame, which we’ve faithfully replicated, is considered a legendary icon of gothic architecture and gargoyle sculpture.


But it is the church of Saint-Severin that is known as a hidden treasure of gargoyles in Paris. A favorite architectural landmark of Design Toscano owner Mike Stopka, taking a 360-degree walk around will reveal that gargoyles cover the entire exterior of the cathedral. Saint-Severin also displays some of the best rain gutter examples of gargoyles. We offer Roland, the Gargoyle Rainspout as our own homage to the original, functional gargoyles!


Greenmen sculptures are also variations on the gargoyle and grotesque genre of statues and architecture.


Whether you choose a historical reproduction of the gargoyle sculptures found in Paris, such as Emmett the Gargoyle, or a modern homage to the classic chimera like Gaston, the Gothic Climber Gargoyle, at Design Toscano, we offer gargoyles and grotesques inspired by the Gothic architecture energized by Viollet-le-Duc himself.

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