As I always say, when gargoyles are severed from their function as water spouts, they are transformed into pure image. Contemplating them arouses a multiplicity of emotions. They are the expression of beauty or hideousness, but above all, they are art.

In addition, as we’ve already seen, gargoyles are a magnificent reflection of the artist’s creative freedom and infinite power of imagination. The incredible amalgamation of forms and beings reveals the sculptor’s creativity and his boundless capacity to carve a multitude of combinations and fantasies into stone.

The wealth of fascinating but spine-chilling detail in devil gargoyles is a testament not only to the sculptors’ formidable imagination but also to their feeling of absolute creative freedom and even sometimes their audacity and desire to provoke. These sculptors’ artistic self-determination or autonomy is clearly evidenced by this dazzling demonstration of imagination, with fabulous creations that can be seen above all in the great cathedrals.

Today, we’re going to visit the beautiful Cathedral of Burgos to see the stunning devils in the lantern tower. But first, let’s start with this excellent quote on the splendid Cathedral of Burgos: “Preceded by a spiritual past intimately imbued with the glories of Castile, the period from 1221 to 1568 kindled an unparalleled vision of stone that inspired a cathedral ennobled in its robust simplicity by the purest elements of classic Gothic style” (López Mata, 2008, p. 185).

 

 

gárgola catedral gótico

The lantern tower at the Cathedral of Burgos (Spain).

 

 

Although there are many different types of gargoyle, it is demonic iconography that prevails in most cathedrals. This overwhelming abundance of devil figures is probably related to the contrast between evil and sin (cathedral exterior) and good and holy (interior of the cathedral). In addition, we shouldn’t forget the idea that indisputably existed in mediaeval times of demonstrating the existence of evil to the community.

The gargoyles in the lantern tower at the Cathedral of Burgos form an exceptional example of depictions of the Devil. These gargoyles display the characteristic features of the demonic type as well as other original details unique to the devils in this cathedral. In general, the gargoyles are large, elongated and stylised and their shapes and details have been beautifully sculpted, with such an impressive sense of volume and fluidity that the figures seem alive, transmitting sensations and textures (flaccidity, tension, repulsion). Among their most notable characteristics we have their leaf-shaped wings, usually large leaves that I call “Acanthus wings”, and they also have leaves on their genitals. Their bodies have protuberances and flaps. We see very straight arms, sometimes inserted into the body or simply lacking them. There are also women’s breasts; we’ve already discussed the association between the devil and women and depictions of the devil with drooping breasts, an image repeated in many of the gargoyles as well as the choir stalls in this cathedral. Their necks are expressive, with deep hollows and prominent windpipes suggesting tension. Sometimes their front and hind legs are bent backwards as if dislocated, an image that appears in other depictions of devils, like those in the 14th century manuscript of Dante’s Divine Comedy, and they end in insect-like pincers or claws, a trait that also appears in a drawing of a capital in Vézelay Abbey (France) from the 11th century. There are also the hind legs of a billy goat with cloven hooves or ending in coiled serpents, a feature that can also be seen in some of the grotesques in the interior of the cathedral. Their bellies are sometimes distended and ugly and their skins are rough and sometimes reptilian or dragonish. Some wear collars ornamented with balls around their necks. Their heads have prominent, bulging foreheads and brows, crests, backwards curving horns and pointed or long curved ears. The mouths sometimes have two long fangs, some have flaps at the sides and others, long whiskers. Many are anthropomorphs, and some gargoyles possess a very unique feature: the eyes, nose and mouth are ominous cavities that endow the face with the eerie appearance of a skull, conferring an expressionist air. Some of the expressions depict pain and suffering. These are faces that are unnerving to behold.

The gargoyles in the lantern tower are terrifying, but at the same time beautiful. The sculpting of the figures is exceptional, with such expressive gestures that they prompt a shiver in whoever looks at them. These are unique and impressive sculptures, superb, frightening, original, chilling, eerie and unnerving. But above all, they are works of art of exceptional beauty and extraordinary fantasy and imagination.

As an example of artistic excellence both in style and iconography, the gargoyles in the Cathedral of Burgos form part of our artistic heritage, a heritage of which we should feel truly proud.

 

 

The gargoyles in the lantern tower at the Cathedral of Burgos

 

gárgolas demonios monstruos

Devil with a ghostly appearance.

 

demonio en gárgolas

Devil with Acanthus wings.

 

gárgolas alas acanto

Devil with a collar.

 

gárgolas canalón cimborrio

Devil with inserted arms.

 

demonios senos mujer

Devil with drooping breasts.

 

demonio gárgola grotesco

Devil with Acanthus wings.

 

arte terror demonio

Devil with Acanthus wings.

 

gárgolas gótico demoníaco

Devil with drooping breasts.

 

terrorífico en arte

Devil with horns.

 

expresividad en gárgolas

Ghostly devil.

 

gárgolas y grotescos

Demon with insect-like legs.

 

gárgola demonio antropomorfo

Anthropomorphic devil.

 

gestualidad en gárgolas

Demon with prominent windpipe.

 

demonio en arte

Demon with prominent windpipe.

 

gárgolas canalón medieval

Devil with bulging brows.

 

gárgola demonio fantástico

Devil with crest and collar.

 

gárgolas en Burgos

Devil with crest and membranous wings.

 

demonio alas murciélago

Ghostly devil.

 

fealdad en arte

Devil with cloven hooves.

 

demonio mujer medieval

Devil with drooping breasts.

 

gárgola monstruo animal

Devil with drooping breasts.

 

gárgola fealdad horror

Devil with Acanthus wings.

 

arte historia investigación

Demon with insect-like legs.

 

senos mujer gárgola

Devil with a ball on its head.

 

gárgolas catedrales España

Devil with drooping breasts.

 

gárgola monstruo grotesco

Devil with large horns.

 

antropomorfo en gárgolas

Devil with Acanthus wings.

 

gárgola macho cabrío

Demon with prominent forehead.

 

 

 

Bibliography consulted

LÓPEZ MATA, T., La Catedral de Burgos, Burgos, Instituto Municipal de Cultura y Turismo, 2008.

 

Art, History and Research

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