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3 Types of Gargoyle Statues for Your Garden

Stone Sculptures - Gargoyle by Jiri Hodan
Stone Sculptures - Gargoyle by Jiri Hodan

Gargoyle garden statues and sculptures fit well into any kind of garden design. They are often the thing which put the finishing touches to a garden. Your gargoyle can be set simply amongst shrubbery, partly obscured from view, or made a more obvious feature and placed on columns, or pedestals at various points in the garden such as in grottoes, alcoves, staircases or at the end of a path.

Gargoyle statues can be roughly separated into 3 main groups:

  • Animal
  • Human
  • Grotesque

Animal Gargoyle Statues

Dogs, goats, donkeys, cows, pigs, lions, monkeys and birds are commonly carved as gargoyles with varying degrees of reality to nature. Human qualities are often attributed to these animals or imposed upon them. Animals in medieval times were believed to have special powers and spirits, both positive and negative.

Information in the Middle Ages about animals both real and imaginary was summarised in the text and illustrations of the "bestiary" (or book of beasts) - a compilation of fact and fiction. Bestiaries assigned moralistic or religious meaning to almost every creature discussed - some meanings were negative and animals were sometimes used to symbolise behaviours that people should avoid rather than emulate. The symbolism given to animals in those Bestiaries was also attached to gargoyle animals. So certain animals were used more frequently than others for having special positive or negative meanings. Dogs and lions were most frequently used

Dogs

Dogs were always known for their loyalty to their master, acting as watchdogs or guardians, protecting buildings from evil spirits. Some dog gargoyle statues have wings. If you choose one of these for your garden, they are believed to come alive at night and they will fly around your home scaring away evil. Dogs were also noted in the Bestiaries and other medieval sources for their wisdom and ability to reason. They symbolised the priest who cares for his congregation and drives away the devil. But dogs could also be used as a negative example and, like the wolf, they could be used to frighten

Stone Sculptures - Gargoyle by Jiri Hodan
Stone Sculptures - Gargoyle by Jiri Hodan

Wolf

The wolf was a creature to be feared in medieval times but it was also respected. Wolves lived together cooperatively as a pack which gave rise to the metaphor that a wolf could be a "leader of the pack" and protect the other members. This symbolised the priests who would fight off the evil of the Devil for the common folk. The wolf however, like the dog, can also be greedy so it was also linked to the deadly sin of greed.

Lion

Lions were frequently used as gargoyles and , among all animals - including the familiar, the foreign and the fabulous - the creature most often depicted in medieval art was the lion, known as the "King of the Beasts". Medieval artists showed the lion to be the first animal on and off the ark and it was always the first animal to be described in the bestiaries. In ancient times, the lion was linked to the sun, probably due to its golden mane bearing similarity to the solar wreath of the sun. Later, in the medieval period, lions became the symbol of pride, one of the seven deadly sins.

Gargoyle in form of a lion - Cathedral Saint-Etienne de Meaux
Gargoyle in form of a lion - Cathedral Saint-Etienne de Meaux | Source

Goat

Goat gargoyles were usually seen in a favourable light as the symbol of Christ. Just as the goat pastured in the valleys so Christ pastured in the Church, fed by the good work of Christians. Goats have very acute vision which allow them to "see everything and know men from afar", the bestiaries say the goat is like God in being all knowing. In a less favourable light male goats were seen as lustful (one of the seven deadly sins) and parts of the goats anatomy - horns, tail and cloven hooves - were standard features in depiction of the devil.

Monkey

The monkey's physical similarity to humans and ability to mimic human actions was believed to be presumptuous and a warning of what happens when nature goes awry. This linked monkeys to the devil - the most presumptuous of all. They were thought to be stupid animals, cunning, malicious and vain. They were linked to the deadly sin of sloth.

Gargoyles can be found to imitate other domestic or wild animals and birds. The statue you choose for your garden will depend on your own personal style but it interesting to take into account the symbolism of these animals when deciding.

The Seven Deadly Sins - Animals Symbols

The Seven Deadly Sins - are characterised by the following animals

  • Pride - Lion
  • Envy - Serpent
  • Greed - Wolf
  • Gluttony - Bear
  • Anger - Boar
  • Sloth - Monkey
  • Lust - Goat

Human Gargoyles

Although not as numerous as the animal type, human gargoyles were very common in medieval times and they come in a range of types. Some are only a head, while others have parts of the body or a full body. They were rarely carved in the form of realistically represented humans; they were more often bizarre than beautiful and some engaged in antics that were quite bawdy.

The imperfect physical characteristics of many "human" gargoyles probably symbolised the medieval belief that physical ugliness, oddity and illness were caused by demons and associated with the devil.

The emotions conveyed through these gargoyle's gestures and facial features are varied and extremely vivid. Rather than being frightening, many of them appear to be themselves by what they observe.

Some are shaped like humans but have bestial characteristics, such as excessive hairiness or animal extremities. These wild men were regarded as degeneration's of humans who had allowed the beast within to appear. Medieval artists often depicted sinners, who had succumbed to temptation, as being transformed into animals which were considered to be lower life forms.

A "person" who appears frequently in medieval art is the "green man" or "leaf man" or Jack-In-The-Green who is represented by a man's head surrounded by foliage and sometimes sprouting branches from his mouth or nose. The green man is a symbol of nature, fertility and rebirth. This gargoyle is still a popular garden statue today and comes in a variety of styles.

Human gargoyles can add an air of fun and entertainment to you garden design, to amuse your visitors, add an element of surprise or (in the case of the green man) promote fertility and growth of the surrounding plants.

Grotesque Gargoyle Statues

A large number of gargoyle statues belong to an unknown species, splendid specimens of a fantastic fauna. Grotesque gargoyle statues were imaginary creatures; some combine parts from different animals while other are part animal and part human.

Some of these fantastic creatures may have been the result of confusion with actual animals. In the bestiaries the description of the unicorn, a four legged creature with a single horn centred on it's forehead, is the same as that for the rhinoceros. The unicorn was called rhinoceros by the Greeks.

Some animals that look monstrous to us today may have been intended to represent real animals, but animals that medieval artists working in western Europe had never seen. Sometimes the monstrosities are the result of exaggerating the qualities of an actual creature and the medieval man's acceptance of a multitude of illogical "facts" claimed to be true of imaginary creatures during the middle ages. The horns of unicorns displayed In England, France, Italy and elsewhere in the middle ages, were actually the horns of narwhals - North Sea animals in the walrus family. Another example is the highly valued eggs claimed to be laid by the griffin - an animal with the head and wings of a bird but the body of a lion which makes laying eggs a physical impossibility.

Many were made by disassembling known animals or humans and re-assembling the parts in ways unknown to nature. A significant number were seen to depict dragons, the devil and demons.

The dragon is depicted in medieval art more often than any other fantastic creature. The word dragon derives from the Sanskrit dric (which means "to see" and refers to the dragon's ability to destroy with his eyes) as well as from the Greek drakon and the Latin draco. The dragon is always seen as menacing and destructive. The devil is often portrayed in the form of a dragon.

Certain gargoyles share the physical characteristics normally associated with the devil and his demons - human in shape but with horns, pointed animal ears, fangs, membranous wings, tail, cloven or clawed feet, hairy bodies and a menacing demeanour.

Grotesque gargoyle statues are a popular chose for both home and garden décor. There is huge range to choose from; the frightening, the fantastic, the funny and the whimsical. They are believed to ward off evil and look great set amongst the shrubbery, climbing or sitting upon the garden wall or raised high on a pedestal, looking down upon their human visitors.

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