Monday, June 27, 2011

Newby Hall Gryphon

Newby Hall Gryphon

At beautiful Newby Hall, outside Ripon, North Yorkshire, last week-end I noticed a wealth of griffins about the place - on the entrance gates, beneath stone benches in the magnificent gardens and throughout the house.

When I asked the Guide, who looked a lot like a cross beneath Margaret Thatcher and 'Acid' Raine Spencer, if the griffin was perhaps a family crest she tersely replied 'No!'. Simon Costin, of the Museum of British Folklore, who was with us on the tour, leant over and consoled me, saying architect John Adam loved them as a motif. Simon I adore, the brittle clock-watching guide I was less than keen on!

The griffin, griffon or gryphon is a legendary creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. As the lion was traditionally considered the king of the beasts and the eagle was the king of the birds, the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature. The griffin was also thought of as king of the creatures.

Griffins are known for guarding treasure and priceless possessions. Adrienne Mayor, a classical folklorist, proposes that the griffin was an ancient misconception derived from the fossilized remains of the Protoceratops found in gold mines in the Altai mountains of Scythia, in present-day Kazakhstan. In antiquity it was a symbol of divine powerand a guardian of the holy or sacred treasure. Some have suggested that the word griffin is cognate with cherub.

Infrequently, a griffin is portrayed without wings, or a wingless eagle-headed lion is identified as a griffin; in 15th-century and late heraldry such a beast may be called an alce or a keythong. In heraldry, a griffin always has forelegs like an eagle's; the beast with forelimbs like a lion's forelegs was distinguished by perhaps only one English herald of later heraldry as the opinicus. Some traditions say that only female griffins have wings.

Ripon Cathedral has an 15th Century carving of a Griffin on one of its many wonderful misericords, alleged by some as the inspiration for the Gryphon in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll, whose real name was Chrales Lutwidge Dodgson, had many connections with the area. His pseudonym or Nome de Plume was a play on his real name; Lewis was the anglicised form of Ludovicus, which was the Latin for Lutwidge, and Carroll an Irish surname similar to the Latin name Carolus, from which the name Charles comes

Perhaps the brittle lady with the painful smile and Raine Spencer hair is a gryphon spirit, or griffon in human form? Ferociously guarding the beautiful things of the house...

1 comment:

clive Hicks-Jenkins said...

There's a charming Maurice Sendak-illustrated book, The Griffin and the Minor Canon, that I much admire.

Your gryphon, Paul, is beautifully drawn and lettered. I should think you'd do a rather fabulous edition of The Griffin and the Minor Canon yourself. Have you ever illustrated a book for children in your signature style? I think that would be something very beautiful and imaginative.