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Monday, July 16, 2012

My Notre Dame View of Paris (Part Three)

As promised, today's post is a closer look at the Gallery of Chimeras, as designed by Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, architect in charge of the cathedral's restoration which began in 1845 and lasted twenty-five years.  Most of the original grotesques (also called chimeras) were too far gone to restore, and so they were removed, and Viollet-le-Duc, along with Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus,  designed new ones. 
 Grotesques are not gargoyles, though most people associate the one with the other.  A gargoyle is the spout of a water gutter that has been carved to resemble a creature of some sort.  Grotesques are simple sculpted images on buildings, usually of a macabre nature.
 What I like about this odd fellow is his hood, which seems downright insulting to any monks or priests associated with the cathedral.  Perhaps they did not put two and two together, or had a sense of humor.  Either way, this evil-looking bird, with his large, searching eyes, is effectively unnerving.
   I have posted other pictures of Le Stryge before, so I thought I would pull back a little and let you see him with his constant companion, the hungry eagle.  How sad that they never get the chance to look off to their right at Sacre Couer.  If they could have turned their heads, they would have been able to see Montmartre's famous basilica being built only a few years after they were created.  What a sight that must have been.
 I love this one in the center.  He is worn down to the point that he must look even more menacing than when he was first created.  The moss adds to his queer look.  These creatures are in between the two towers, and cannot be seen unless you climb the spiral, stone steps below the north tower to reach the gallery.  I was delighted to find them.
   Here is a better view of them.  As you can see, they have a companion who resembles a wizard from a Tolkien novel, albeit with a hat that could almost double as a construction workers hardhat.  This figure took me by surprise, when I was still under the impression that these chimeras were much older.  He looked far too modern to me.  It does indeed look like a character out of an illustrated 19th century children's fantasy book.
   Across from the creatures in the above photograph sit these fellas.  A rather angry looking elephant who has lost his trunk, griffins, and some sort of dog, who has been so worn by the elements, that he now resembles a hell hound from a nightmare.  A faceless dog such as this would be terrifying, not matter that he could not bite you.  It would just be disturbing beyond measure.
  The last shot here gives you a courtyard view of Le Stryge and his buddies from the front of the cathedral.  They sit at the base of the north tower, somewhere around one-hundred-twenty to one-hundred-fifty feet off the ground.  Here you can see the difference between the grotesques on the railing and the gargoyle in the center, which has an open mouth and spews out the collected rain.

  And here you can see what it looks like from their point of view.  I think this scrawny little dude might have one of the best views, though Le Stryge is fortunate enough to have a clean line of sight at the Eiffel Tower, and so he was able to see it erected nearly forty years after he took his perch.  But from here, our malnourished friend can gaze down upon all the visitors, year round, always perfectly posed for all those cameras.
  I have already addressed the speculations regarding the appropriateness of such disturbing images upon a cathedral in an earlier post about gargoyles, so I won't revisit that discussion, except to say that if you remember the series of Chick Cartoon Tracts and their comic book series The Crusaders, you'll know that the Church has used this type of imagery to raise the awareness of evil in other applications, and so this might not be as odd as you think.  However, I doubt you will ever see such grotesques on the facade of the latest mega-church in America any time soon.

For a more detailed study of these odd, fascinating creatures, check out Michael Camille's book: The Gargoyles of Notre Dame.

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