In this post, I want to look at some unique and exceptional gargoyles. These are unique not solely due to their type or style, but also because of their location.
I am referring here to the gargoyles in the Cathedral of Palma de Mallorca, a jewel of Spanish heritage, and my first blog post on the Balearic Islands.
Built on the site of a mosque, construction of the Cathedral of Santa María began around 1300. This superb building is stunningly beautiful, with an impressive, fortress-like outline. It is unquestionably one of the most magnificent cathedrals in Spain.
Palma de Mallorca Cathedral (Spain).
The gargoyles are equally spectacular, with figures featuring a variety of styles and themes, some of which are also highly original. Due to the vast number of gargoyles in the cathedral, I shall restrict myself here to some of the most outstanding of each type. However, the others are also really worth seeing, so I shall discuss them little by little in future posts.
The animal figures include some dogs. There is one wearing a collar and displaying its genitals, another with fangs and hollow eyes that seem to gaze upwards, and two very original and surprising dogs: one with a body that is out of proportion to its head which looks a little demonic, and another with a grotesque and almost comic appearance.
Dog with collar.
Dog with fangs.
Dog with disproportionate body.
Dog with grotesque appearance.
There are also quite a few lions, all of which are different, providing a very interesting stylistic diversity. Their manes are magnificent and exceptionally sculpted, and some are extravagant and odd. One of them has a mane formed of tufts of wool, a lion that recalls images from ancient art (Persia, Mesopotamia), while another has an enormous, voluminous mane. Others are simpler, more schematic and geometric. For example, there is one with a beautiful corded mane. But the most memorable of all is a lion that took my breath away when I first saw it. With its superb mane and head tilting to one side looking down, it’s one of the most beautiful lion gargoyles that I’ve seen so far.
Other figures include one in the shape of a ram and a very peculiar, highly detailed bird.
As for animal monsters, or hybrids, there is a fabulous winged ram with ornamented horns in a very modern style.
Lion with mane like tufts of wool.
Lion with voluminous mane.
Lion with corded mane.
Leon with head looking downwards.
There is also a variety of human gargoyles. One is an apparently naked, kneeling man whose hands are resting on his thighs. Although the sculpture seems coarse, with grainy, rough stone, this imposing figure remains highly expressive, with a ghostly aspect. There is also a seated man with his hands resting on his knees and wearing long robes, another expressive gargoyle carved from rough stone. And there is a doccione, a naked man with one knee resting on the ground, who is carrying a vessel on his shoulder. As we saw in a previous post, the doccioni are gargoyles carrying an object or an animal from which the rainwater pours.
Man with his hands on his knees.
Within the category of anthropomorphs, there are some strange and unique gargoyles distinguished by heads resembling the green man. They are winged but have human postures and faces, and one of them is displaying its genitals; as I said, they are very unusual. Another totally different anthropomorph in a modern style has wings but the head of a bearded man; it is squatting with its arms raised towards its head —although they also seem to be inserted into the body— in a very expressive gesture of anguish.
Anthropomorph resembling the green man.
Anthropomorph resembling the green man.
Among the devils, there is one with the head of a dog or wolf, membranous wings and prominent ribs; it is depicted in a rampant posture and is sculpted in a geometric, modern style. There is also another extraordinary, truly impressive gargoyle with a quadruped body and dragonish appearance that has hooves, women’s breasts, a leaf covering its genitals and an amphibian-type head, as well as one with a prominent windpipe and a grotesque appearance. The last one I want to show you is a stunning anthropomorphic devil with a human face, bat-like wings and enormous claws.
Devil with dog’s head.
Devil with women’s breasts.
Devil with prominent windpipe.
Two of the pinnacles have very interestingly original gargoyles and chimeras. These depict a variety of figures in terms of type, including animals (bird, lamb, dog) and hybrids carved in a strange, unique style due to their widely separated, bulging eyes and the upwards wings of some of them.
I shall conclude with some gargoyles whose beauty astonished us as soon as we entered the cathedral. I’m referring here to the cathedral’s marvellous angel doccione. It’s hard enough to find gargoyles in the form of angels —recall the beautiful angel in the Cathedral of Vitoria— and even more so to find ones that are also doccioni. Their flowing robes, wings (some with herringbone decoration), faces, hair, gestures and expressions merit our contemplation and admiration.
As I said at the beginning, the cathedral’s gargoyles are all extraordinary. Their variety of form and type together with their originality, expressiveness, plasticity and exceptional sculpting (geometric, schematic, with disproportionate bodies, etc.) recalling other artistic styles and periods (antiquity, expressionism, modernism) render them unique and beautiful.
When visiting the city of Palma, the first sight of the cathedral is breathtaking due to its size and beauty. Thanks to the kindness of the cathedral staff, we had the good fortune to be able to climb up to the roof and I have to say that it’s difficult to describe the feeling you get when seeing the cathedral from above, with a view of its flying buttresses, the gargoyles on the pinnacles —which are invisible from the ground— and one of its gorgeous rose windows. It’s an incredible experience that’s well worth it.
But it is even more stirring, if possible, to see the entire city from the highest point of the cathedral. Being up there allowed me to appreciate and admire Palma’s landscape and architecture. And when I stopped to look at its gargoyles from above, I was overwhelmed by emotion because I immediately thought “These gargoyles are looking out to sea”.
VV. AA., El Gótico. Arquitectura. Escultura. Pintura, trad.: J. García Pelegrín y P. de la Riestra, Colonia, Könemann Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, 1998.
Art, History and Research
Doctora en Historia del Arte. Investigadora especializada en el estudio de las gárgolas.