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10 April Apr 2018 1005 12 days ago

Fantastic beasts and where to find them…

Giants and gargoyles, distinctive features of the Duomo's architecture

The first of the Duomo's true statuary appeared on the monument's external shelves and among the niches on the capitels of the first pillars.

At the same time, strange and fantastical creatures began to boldly animate the Cathedral's exterior spaces, products of imagination and medieval legends, the creation of which originated from the simple need to channel rain water. These eventually became one of the most vivid and characteristic elements of Gothic architecture: the spouts which the Fabbrica's old documents initially called by their French term “gargouilles”, then gorgulae, and giargiollae [gargoyles]. Meanwhile, the powerful figures, tenaciously clinging to the corner pillars and buttresses, were known as giants and served as a support for the gargoyles.

Exquisitely sculpted and among the original ornamental statuary, these Telamons belong to the profane, with features that conform more strongly to northern Alpine tastes: savage, course men, out of proportion at first, which were both Burlesque and grotesque.

Hunters and shepherds, with wild, unkempt hair and long, flowing beards, presented as hominis selvatici, half naked, powerful but with flattened features, bodies covered with hair similar to cavemen, and carrying clubs or some kind of weapon. Only after centuries, no longer required for support, did they transform into an army of artisans, wayfarers, pilgrims, nobility in luxurious clothing, or simple peasants, pages, armigers that, from on high, seemed to dominate and oversee the monumental structure.

Meanwhile, the gargoyles provided a world of animal forms: lions, snakes, lizards, birds, goats, mastiffs, and other breeds of dog were paired with dragons, sea monsters, mermaids, and harpies, with wings, crests, scales, tails, snouts, and horns. An incredible assortment of beasts accompanied by a virile army that, from the start of the 1400s, beginning at the apse, extended all the way to the Renaissance, shining a bright spotlight on how this statuary transformed under the masterful chisel of magistri picantes lapides.