Lifelong Learning Programme

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission.
This material reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein

Artists - ArtWorks

Name of the Artist / Artwork:

Cathedral of Cologne, The Gargoyles

Country: Germany
Century: 1200 - The 13th Century
Artist / Artwork Description:

Gargoyles were „invented“ in antiquity. They were used to guide the rainwater from the roofs of temples and they were often shaped as heads of animals, foremost dragons. In the following decades they fell into oblivion till they were discovered again in gothic period. Gothic with its delicate stonemasonry made a well-structured water systems necessary again. At about 1220 the first gargoyles with fantastic shapes were built in France. These we call typical “medieval”. Their motives were not chosen by accident: People believed that demons would retreat if they saw their own picture because they were scared the gargoyles got this kind of appearance of the “breed of the evil”. Those breeds were thought to be responsible for thunderstorms and other climatic phenomenons. Thus the gargoyles can be seen as the lightening-rod of Middle Ages. Their work was to guard celestical Jerusalem in form of the cathedrals that were a symbol for it.
The Cologne Catedral has altogether 108 gargoyles that were made in a 800-years-period from 13th to the 20th century.

Synthetic Chronology:

The Cologne cathedral was started in 1248 and remained unfinished for 300 years. Altogether its construction took more than 600 years.

The Context:

The gargoyles are part of a system to diverse water from the roof of cathedrals in the Middle Ages.


In the so called Middle Ages (the dark period) people believed – more fearful than today – that god is in heaven and the evil between us. They wanted to have paradise inside “god`s house”, the cathedral. Outside, so their opinion, the devil must be held out of this area.
The gargoyles – especially in cologne – are very variously shaped in their outward appearance.
You can find the following motives: animals, fabulous creatures and as well as human beings.

National Comparative:

Artistic Analysis:

An artistic analysis is not possible in so far as the stone-masons are part of different schools. They reached a very individual level relative to their artworks at several cathedrals in Germany and other countries.

Transnational Comparative Analysis:

As mentioned above the first typical shaped "gargoyles" were made in France. There are many cathedral-buildings where they can be found (Reims, Chartres, Straßbourg, Freiburg).


Gothic architecture is very interesting and to be found in several cathedrals in Germany. I selected a part (gargoyles) of this building, everybody is looking at. The gargoyles are an unconventional relict of the Middle Ages, the believe and the people of this period. But not all of the visitors do understand the meaning of it (inside the church means to be in paradise and the outside represents the evil part of life). They include also the function to draw off the water from the roof. The cologne cathedral is one of the major architectural masterpieces in Germany


Regina E.G. Schymiczek: Höllenbrut und Himmelswächter

Related Material:

Image available

File name: 55_Gargoyle-Dom-Koeln-bartweiserii_kl.jpg

Description of the material:

image 124 x 93 pixel 9,67 KB

Contextualisation Of the source:

This image was taken of one of the real medieval gargoyles of the Cologne Cathedral.

Interpretation of the source:

This image is part of the original Cologne-Cathedral-website, which you can find under the following address: the image itself is to be found under:

File name: 55_Gargoyle-Dom-Koeln-knappe_kl.jpg

Description of the material:

image, 124 x 93 Pixel 9,01 KB

Contextualisation Of the source:

This image is part of the official website of the Cologne Cathedral ( This image can be found under the following address:

Interpretation of the source:

This gargoyle was made in the 19th century. There were several gargoyles restaured in the 19th century, after masonry works were begun again at the cathedral in 1842.

Comments about this Artist/ArtWork

Date: 2009.05.22

Posted by Zornitsa Staneva, Sofia, BG

Message: Being a part of the gothic culture, gargoyles were never typical for Bulgarian art and architecture through the centuries, but I would like to share this interesting "attempt" for a gargoyle created at the Pravets Monastery /about 100km away from Sofia in the Balkan mountain/ -Файл:Pravetsgargoyle.jpg. For all users of the Russian langue is also this link, which presents very interesting details about and examples of gargoyles from around Europe. Chimeras /similar fantastic creatures not used for water draining/ are also studied there.

Michelangelo - Copyright 2008 - This project has been funded with support from the European Commission

Valid XHTML 1.1Valid CSS!Materiale fotografico: © Pavel Losevsky |