I’ve been interested in them ever since I first saw the Disney show of the same name. I hardly remember any specifics about the cartoon, but I did think it was amazing. The main reason I chose gargoyles to search was because I originally intended for this to be an art blog, though within its first month or so chance ended up with me unwittingly taking a very different route with it. That’s for the better I think, because all the art history posts I did were cut and pasted from homework essays of an art history class I took and I found myself with very little time or energy to produce anything new. I still have quite a few that I never posted on here, and I don’t care to get around to it. I like what my blog ended up being.
Anyway, here is the eleventh result for “gargoyle:”
I like gargoyles because they are a vividly diverse lot. The first ten results were fairly conventional with wings and or horns, but this one is rather unusual. He appears to be just a man, granted one who is either very horrified at something or in a lot of pain. Proper gargoyles act as waterspouts to divert rain off the buildings to protect from erosion, it doesn’t look like this one has this function and it certainly doesn’t look like it would do the secondary job of scaring off evil spirits very well. The picture comes from a good Huffington Post article with several other unusual testimonies to gargoyle diversity: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/17/spooky-church-gargoyles_n_5315933.html
For many people two art forms define medieval art, illuminated manuscripts and stained glass windows. The former was a product of the Dark Ages, while the latter appeared in the Romanesque period. Around the 13th century the European art scene began to shift from Romanesque to Gothic. Like it’s predecessor, this new style built upon previous art forms to create works unique to this time. By this time bookmaking was as prosperous as ever, and books were increasingly diverse. History began to flourish again as bookmakers were not merely copying primary sources, they were writing secondary sources. Like with the Bibles and Psalters, these history books were decorated with full color illustration that could tell the story to those who couldn’t read (or know Latin). Non-fiction in general became commonplace, providing invaluable information on how people saw the world. Bestiaries provide information about all manner of animals, most of which are none existent while others real but with misinformation. Though prose fiction as we know it today hadn’t really developed yet, poetry was widespread and many manuscripts are filled with new poems. So much secular literature hadn’t been common since Roman times and they show that while the Middle Ages were very religious, it was also an earthy time when people had a raw sense of humor.
Though stained glass begun during the Romanesque era, the art matured in the Gothic era and that is when we start to see some very notable work. Unlike illuminated manuscripts, stained glass was still confined largely to the cathedrals so the content remained primarily religious. All (or almost all ) of the Gothic cathedrals utilize stained glass, so it is easy to see how the windows swiftly became so sophisticated. The primary goal of the windows was to tell Biblical stories to the illiterate; the “Poor Man’s Bible” I discussed last week. Abstraction also became common, sometimes embellishing scenes and other times dominating an entire window. These abstract designs make stained glass an interesting parallel with illuminated manuscripts. Perhaps one reason we find stained glass so captivating is because we use windows to see outside and let light in, not to decorate the interior of a room.
It is often said the art is a reflection of the time and place it was created in. I think for the Middle Ages that is especially true. While books were produced it is important to note that they are one of the few available media forms. The number of books made is miniscule by later standards. Many later books and resources have been written about the time, but they are often filled with errors. This leaves art as vital voice for Medieval beliefs. Yes books were filled with art, but not everyone knows Latin. However, anyone can look at art; and scholars and art historians have made understanding it fairly easy.
When the millennium turned Europe was beginning to leave the Dark Age and enter what many consider to be Medieval times (though some lump the two together). A cornerstone of Medieval progress was the development of Romanesque period art and architecture. Romanesque work originated as imitation of Imperial Roman architecture and was an attempt to restore Europe to it’s pre-Fall glory. Defining characteristics were rounded arches and vaults. The movement actually took influences from a wide variety of sources, leading to much regional diversity. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Romanesque buildings are how they ambitiously combine several different art forms, making Romanesque churches into a form of master art. Every visible part of the building was a potential art space, meaning even practical architectural elements could double as sculpture. Columns are a perfect example of Romanesque art because they are an obvious influence from Greco-Roman architecture and Medieval builders built upon past usage of columns and used and integrated sculpture into the practical design. Portals (the area around the main door) are another important element that were turned into sculpture:
Romanesque art is also responsible for many innovations that were unheard of in Roman times. Stained glass windows are one of the most important examples as for many they are synonymous with Medieval art. The colorful, two dimensional, windows provide a nice counter to the often colorless (granted some were painted but it has faded away) and three dimensional sculptures. The art remained important well into the Renascence and there was revival of stained glass in Victorian times which continues to some extent today. Most of the examples I could find were Gothic or later, but here are some Romanesque stained glass windows:
During the Romanesque period almost anything could be made into art. The diversity is stunning with each building different than the next. Depending on the location influences (aside from namesake Roman) could include Celtic, Saxon, Islamic, Norse, Mozarabic, Visigothic, Ostrogothic, or Byzantine just to name a few. Visual style aside, all Romanesque art is unified with common elements. The chief of these is a Biblical worldview, or more accurately the Biblical worldview endorsed by the Catholic Church. Close examination of most pieces will reveal the most common theme are Biblical stories, depictions of extra-Biblical Saints are also popular. The reason for this was to make the content of the Bible accessible for the illiterate. Scholars have dubbed this the “Poor Man‘s Bible” and it can be seen in sculptures, stained glass, and murals (which I have chosen not to write about as they are not uniquely Romanesque). Local flavor can be seen in depictions of that areas rulers and history. We can also see much about how Medieval people saw the world in their depictions of grotesque beasts meant to protect the building from evil. Taken as a whole, Romanesque cathedrals and churches can be viewed as elaborate art museums, because they showcase the contemporary art in a region represented by almost every form of art.