Head Snackers – Amuse Bouche #19 (Dennis Aubrey)


PJ has a habit of naming everything, from our photographic equipment to churches themselves. There is a motif of Romanesque sculpture that we both love found all over France, a motif she has dubbed “head snackers”. The head snacker features a demonic figure of some sort with great sharp teeth biting into the head or body of a poor human. This version at the Église Saint Martin in Plaimpied is a classic representation of the type, including the two-bodied, single-headed feathered beast.

Head snacker, Église Saint Martin, Plaimpied-Givaudins (Cher) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Head snacker, Église Saint Martin, Plaimpied-Givaudins (Cher) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Sometimes, as in Civaux, the demonic flesh-renderer is consuming the body almost whole. Here, the demon is not only tearing at the flesh, but his talon pierces the eye of the victim.

Head Snacker,  Église Saint Gervais et Saint Protais, Civaux (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Head Snacker, Église Saint Gervais et Saint Protais, Civaux (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

But the sine qua non of the head snacker is found in Chauvigny. Here the head snacker carved by the inimitable Gofridus is actually bemused and the victim stares out with his single visible eye in a bit of confusion. The comic underpinning of this tortured figure is typical of all the capitals in the Collégiale Saint Pierre.

Head snacker, Collégiale Saint Pierre, Chauvigny (Vienne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Head snacker, Collégiale Saint Pierre, Chauvigny (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The imaginations of the medieval sculptors filled the Romanesque churches with demons and angels, saints and sinners. Most of the time they served to instruct the faithful, but sometimes, I think, they were more private commentaries and were intended to entertain as well as terrify. They were the medieval equivalents of Frankenstein movies.

Elsa Lanchester in "Bride of Frankenstein", Universal Pictures, 1935

Elsa Lanchester in “Bride of Frankenstein”, Universal Pictures, 1935

This is part of a series of posts 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. To see other amuse-bouches, follow this link.

5 responses to “Head Snackers – Amuse Bouche #19 (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. Can’t help but wonder what children thought as they gazed on these creations! What better place to be frightened but in church!🙂
    Am loving this series! More, please!

    • Cindy, I was 13 when I first saw the Chauvigny version and was delighted at it. Younger children, not so sure. At Chauvigny, they are not terrifying. At other churches, far more so. Just down the road in Civaux, the same sculptor took a much more serious angle on the head snackers! Glad you are enjoying this series – PJ and I like being able to focus on these smaller themes in the amuse-bouches.

  2. ” Head snackers” : what a pleasant nickname P.J. invented for these devouring monsters that seem too ferocious not to be somewhat comical ! Around Poitiers and the whole Poitou and Saintonge region, they are called “Grand’Goules” and an ancient local legend relate them to sainte Radegonde. An near equivalent in Provence is the well-known Tarasque, still alive in the folklore of Tarascon.
    Albert

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