excuse can there be for these ridiculous monstrosities in the cloister where
the monks do their reading, extraordinary things at once beautiful and ugly?
. . . a beast with a serpent for its tail, a fish with an animals
head, and a creature that is horse in front and goat behind, and a second
beast with horns and the rear of a horse. . . . One could easily spend the
whole day gazing fascinated at these things, one by one, instead of meditating
on the law of God.
asked the twelfth-century Cistercian reformer, Bernard of Clairvaux. Fortunately,
his condemnation of gargoyles and grotesques did not halt the carving
of the fantastic beasts during his day. By the time of the Renaissance,
however, artisans had virtually ceased to carve them. But the horrifying,
yet fascinating creatures appealed once again to artists and critics of
the nineteenth century who were living through a period of dramatic social
and political change. To them, Gothic sculpture celebrated mystery and
ambiguity, while embodying the passion and high standards of medieval
craftsmanship. Nineteenth-century idealists interpreted the fierce creatures
perched on the heights of medieval buildings as stone sentinels, and admired
their ability to simultaneously horrify and fascinate. Proponents of the
Gothic Revival embraced religious mysticism and cultivated a deep appreciation
for the value of craftsmanship. In England, architects appropriated motifs
and entire schemes from medieval sources, while in France, the government
funded massive efforts to restore the nations medieval architectural
heritage, which included its prized gargoyles and grotesques.