Column Swallower – Amuse-bouche #4 (Dennis Aubrey)


PJ and I have decided to do a series of posts, perhaps once a week, featuring an amuse-bouche, a bite-sized appetizer to whet the appetite of diners. Each of these will explore a single interesting feature of medieval architecture or sculpture.

We’ve seen ample evidence of the imagination of the Romanesque sculptors, but one of our favorites is the Column Swallower, known in French as the engoulant. According to the limited research that I’ve been able to find on the subject, they are found mostly in the Aquitaine and in England. This example is from the Église Saint-Nicolas in the Vienne town of Civray

"Column Swallower" at Église Saint-Nicolas, Civray (Vienne)

“Column Swallower” at Église Saint-Nicolas, Civray (Vienne)

These clever figures serve as capitals, usually, and are among the many apotropaic figures found in medieval churches. Some French observers believe that the figures represent the dangers that threaten the building, which reflect the dangers that threaten the Church itself. Some observers also believe that the creatures are not swallowing, but spewing, the columns. Whatever the purpose, they demonstrate the free-ranging imagination of the medieval sculptor.

To see other amuse-bouches, follow this link.

6 responses to “Column Swallower – Amuse-bouche #4 (Dennis Aubrey)

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