Illustrated Architecture Dictionary

Gargoyle
GAR goy l


A grotesquely carved figure of a human or animal, esp. one with an open mouth that serves as a spout and projects from a gutter to throw rainwater clear of a building

Latin: "gurges" = whirlpool

Gargoyles are said to frighten off and protect those that it guards, such as a church, from any evil or harmful spirits. Cf. Chinese roof sculptures.

A type of scupper with an ornamental design.

Grotesque is a sculpture that does not work as a waterspout and serves only an ornamental or artistic function.

Corbels are structural piece of stone, wood or metal jutting from a wall to carry a superincumbent weight, a type of bracket.

Carvings at the end of hammer beams are the indoor equivalent of outdoor protective gargoyles.

The term gargoyle is most often applied to medieval work, but throughout all ages some means of water diversion, when not conveyed in gutters, was adopted.

In Ancient Egyptian architecture, gargoyles showed little variation, typically in the form of a lion's head.

Similar lion-mouthed water spouts were also seen on Greek temples, carved or modelled in the marble or terracotta cymatium of the cornice. An excellent example of this are the 39 remaining lion-headed water spouts on the Temple of Zeus. There were originally 102 gargoyles or spouts, but due to the heavy weight (they were crafted from marble), many have snapped off and had to be replaced.

Many medieval cathedrals included gargoyles and chimeras. The most famous examples are those of Notre Dame de Paris. Although most have grotesque features, the term gargoyle has come to include all types of images. Some gargoyles were depicted as monks, or combinations of real animals and people, many of which were humorous.

Unusual animal mixtures, or chimeras, did not act as rainspouts and are more properly called grotesque. They serve more as ornamentation, but are now synonymous with gargoyles.

Both ornamented and unornamented water spouts projecting from roofs at parapet level were a common device used to shed rainwater from buildings until the early eighteenth century. From that time, more and more buildings bought drainpipes to carry the water from the guttering roof to the ground and only very few buildings using gargoyles were constructed. This was because some people found them frightening, and sometimes heavy ones fell off, causing damage. In 1724, the London Building Act passed by the Parliament of Great Britain made the use of downpipes compulsory on all new construction.

Wikipedia: Gargoyle (online September 2015)

Examples from Buffalo architecture:

Other examples:


Photos and their arrangement 2002 Chuck LaChiusa
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