Mascarons of Bordeaux: witnesses of our past

Leopoldine Iribarren

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The city of Bordeaux, located in the South of France is well known for its vineyards as well as its 18th Century architecture. If this latter is one of the city decisive advantages, nobody, apart from some tourists probably, seems to notice the stone faces called mascarons.

© Léopoldine Iribarren
© Léopoldine Iribarren

 

 

 

 

 

Settled on top of windows and doors, mostly in the city center, they are portrayed and integrated differently with the Bordeaux architecture evolution.

From distinct styles and representing different characters – a Turkish, a savage person, a woman, a nymph as well as a Phrygian cap – mascarons are more explicit when we evaluate then within the urban landscape.

    © Léopoldine Iribarren
© Léopoldine Iribarren

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More than stones faces, they’re telling a story

From the Arabic word “mascara”, and the Italian mascheron, Mascaron, fmeans ‘big grotesque mask’, in other words means “buffoonery”.

Originate from Italian masks ballet, taken from the Greco-Latin Antiquity by Renaissance artists, they played a guardian role. Moreover, they were used as a decorative model for all over France and Europe. The mascaron is reflecting the city history and represent in particular the slave trade period where the moon harbour – named this way thanks to his crescent moon shape – was an inevitable stop. Besides, it is possible to notice African faces as well as Freemasonry symbols.

It is only during the 18th Century that the city; medieval town circled by bulwark, modernises and upturns itself, mascarons flourish on houses, hotels, fountains and along the quays façades of the Gironde capital until the end of the lights Century.

Vast urban programs have been made to modernise and opening up itself to the world. Since then, the utilisation of the mascaron is limited. We have to wait 1860’s for the 18th century style expresses oneself again. The decorative style ends after the 2nd World War, entailing the elimination of the stone faces on news buildings.

© Léopoldine Iribarren
© Léopoldine Iribarren
© Léopoldine Iribarren

City of 3000 faces

If it could be seen as a fantasy from both the architect and the sculptor, the mascaron aims to divert devil eye and preserve from mournful spell. 

Representations of men and women in the Gironde capital are not lacking. Stone faces expressions are the most interesting and surprising. A wide variety, simultaneously recognisable and severable, it is difficult to count and itemise them.

The sculptor expresses attitudes by focusing on the look, as well as the head posture, the mouth shape, the headdress or the hair. We tend to associate these sculptures with the bad weather genius that dig the rock.

© Léopoldine Iribarren
© Léopoldine Iribarren

 

 

 

 

 

The Place de la Bourse, very representative of the 18th Century architecture, conceived upon the king Louis XIV’s request, many stone faces are work of the sculptor Jacques Verberckt.

Mascarons are one of the city symbols. Thus, the chubby angels, the grinning heads, Greek divinities register as a signature of its places. If you walk in the alleys, open your eyes, you may have the chance to see one greeting you…

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Leopoldine Iribarren