Generally speaking, gargoyles can be classified into three kinds of figures, humans, animals and monsters. It’s difficult to establish an exact classification of all kinds of gargoyles, as one figure may belong to one or more types. Fantastical or mythological gargoyle figures may be included in the monster category, sometimes they may even fall into the devil category, while some hybrids and real animals can also refer to the devil, and so on.
However, the classification I’ve drawn up below is as accurate and complete as possible and covers the various types of gargoyles.
Types of Gargoyles
Human: it’s very common to see gargoyles in human form. You can see depictions of men and women with period clothing, monks, witches, skeletons, musicians, etc. They’re normally figures that have some kind of meaning and are usually conveying some sort of lesson or warning.
Anthropomorphic: these are animals with features similar to those of humans. They are half human and may have human physical features or have something that identifies them as men or women, such as clothing.
Real animals: gargoyle figures with naturalist portrayals used symbolically, the origins of which date back to the works of Aristotle, Pliny, Saint Isidore and other authors, as well as to the Physiologus and other bestiaries.
Fantastical and mythological animals: these depictions come both from the same sources as real animals and also from mythological works dating from Antiquity. These images are also used symbolically, with folklore, tradition and superstition playing a large part in figures like the dragon, the basilisk, the gryphon, the harpy, the mermaid, etc.
Brussels City Hall (Belgium).
Angels and devils: it’s quite unusual to see angels decorating gargoyles, but there are a few wonderful examples. In contrast, the figure of the devil is much more common and takes on a variety of forms.
Cathedral of María Inmaculada in Vitoria (Spain).
Palencia Cathedral (Spain).
Monsters: these can be split into three groups: animal monsters, human monsters and plant monsters. Animal monsters are hybrid creatures that come from the combination of various animal body parts and they tend to be far-fetched and unconfined creations. The most common depiction is the winged quadruped. Human monsters are figures of men and women from races of monstrous human creatures (paniotos, sciapods – also known as monopods – and blemmyes), but they are rarely seen in gargoyles. Plant monster is a term used to describe a type of gargoyle consisting of a mix of dead leaves with faces or with various monstrous elements.
León Cathedral (Spain).
Geometric designs: this section includes gargoyles that depict objects (vessel, cannon, column) as well as those that are simple geometric shapes. This design became more common in post-Gothic periods.
Doctora en Historia del Arte. Investigadora especializada en el estudio de las gárgolas.