Today’s post is about the portrayal of nakedness in gargoyles.

In his book on the history of the body in the Middle Ages, the great French Medievalist Jacques Le Goff (1924-2014) tells us that the Roman Empire already exercised containment in terms of the body and sexuality, in what has been called paganism. When Christianity became the state religion, the body was repressed. The Middle Ages was an era characterised by the renunciation of the body, with the clergy suppressing bodily practices and Church Elders implementing ascetic monasticism combined with the mortification of the body (hair shirt, sleeping on the ground, flagellation, control over movement) together with imposed voluntary suffering such as fasting and abstinence. It’s worth remembering that in the Middle Ages, Adam and Eve’s sin became a sin of the body, a sexual sin. As a result, the body was the great loser in the original sin.

However, Le Goff says that on the whole, people were not against nakedness and that only the Church rejected it. But, in spite of this, St Francis of Assisi stripped naked twice, once in front of his father, his bishop and his community to show his conversion and renouncement, and a second time in the church to preach. As the saint said, “follow the naked Christ naked”. In fact, by the 13th century most theologians began seeing the body in a more positive light (St. Buenaventura, St. Thomas).

The consequence of renouncing the body was that nakedness became regarded as being humiliating and degrading, a sign of having been expelled from the community and the domain of devils, pagans and heretics, “a stain from the pagan gods that must be wiped from Christian consciousness”, as Luther Link says. This author states that nakedness in the human figure and in the devil comes from classic Antiquity. The ecclesiastical hierarchy saw pagan gods as devils, who almost always showed themselves naked, which was why they had to be portrayed in this way. According to Claudio Lange, figures that show their sex are not Christian sinners, although they may be marginal Christians.

In this research, Le Goff says that eroticism emerges in the margins of manuscripts, in drôleries, where we see the body shown in forms never depicted anywhere else. The margins, he says, are spaces for pleasure, entertainment, ornament and, especially, uncensored spaces where scandalous or lewd topics can flourish. Le Goff tells us that “the body is unleashed in the margins”.

Nakedness appears in all manifestations of marginal art: gargoyles, drôleries, corbels, etc.

Thus, the body is unleashed in gargoyles.




Batalha Monastery (Portugal)



Bibliography consulted

LANGE, C., “La clave anti-islámica. Ideas sobre marginación icónica y semántica”, Relegados al margen. Marginalidad y espacios marginales en la cultura medieval (2009), pp. 115-127.

LE GOFF, J. y TRUONG, N., Una historia del cuerpo en la Edad Media, Barcelona, Ediciones Paidós Ibérica, S. A., 2005.

LINK, L., El Diablo. Una máscara sin rostro, Madrid, Editorial Síntesis, S. A., 2002.


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