Friday, January 30, 2015

Mexichrome postcard: Grotesque (or chimera) atop Notre Dame

This undated, unused postcard featuring a view from atop Notre Dame de Paris was produced by Editions Chantal. Where Mexichrome fits in is that it, according to the Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York City, was "a trade name for the continental sized photochromes that were printed in France in the early 1950s for the Fischgrund Publishing Company in Mexico."

On the back of this card, numbered 315, the caption simply states "Le Diable.'

Some might call this piece of architecture a gargoyle, but that would be incorrect (though it's a common — and generally accepted — misuse of the term).

This would be more correctly called a grotesque or chimera. The difference is actually pretty simple:

  • Gargoyle: An elaborate carving with a spout designed to direct water from a roof and away from the side of a building (thus protecting the walls and overall structure from damage and erosion). The back of the gargoyle features a trough and the water is often directed out through a feature resembling a mouth. According to Gravely Gorgeous: "The word, gargoyle, derives from the French gargouille, or throat, from which the verb, to gargle, also originates."
  • Grotesque: A carved stone figure, typically mythical or horrifying, used in architecture. It would not involve a spout. A grotesque can also be called a chimera. A grotesque might be merely decorative, or it might have a role in structural support.

One thing that some gargoyles and grotesques, especially the scariest-looking ones, had in common is that they were sometimes used by the church to (1) convey the concept of evil to illiterate parishioners and/or (2) scare evil spirits away from the church.

Here's one more handy guide, to help you keep everything straight...

1 comment:

  1. If you sold a wallet-sized reference card of the bottom image, I'd buy it. You never know when you'll need to identify one of those suckers in the wild.