No, this post is not about the Harry Potter prequel starring Eddie Redmayne. It’s about an artistic feature which is commonly found in every city that was developed massively in the Baroque era.
The Baroque is a cultural movement born in Rome (Italy) in the 1600s covering a timeframe of 2 centuries, until the late 1700s (with a lighter version called Rococo). The Baroque concepts impacted on every aspect of life spanning from Architecture, Paintings, Frescoes, Philosophy, Music ad Literature. The name of this style may derive from the French word “baroque” (meaning “bizarre”) or from the portuguese “barocco” (the name given to a pearl with an irregular shape). This is the era of some of the most brialliant talents of all times such as Bernini, Borromini and Guarini for the architecture, Vivaldi for the music, Galielo for Science and Philosophy and Caravaggio for the paintings, to mention just a few.
Although the Baroque adventure spans all over Europe, the “capital” cities of such style are all in Italy: Noto in Sicily, Lecce in Apulia and Torino in Piedmont. The architectural features are pretty much the same in all these places where the so called “grandeur” was the guideline to impress the visitors. However there is something that makes Torino different from any other baroque city which is the immense number of monsters which decorate the doors, the balconies and the window of both noble palaces (including the royal ones) as well as regular buildings for the citizens.
You may be familiar with the medieval Gargoyles, which decorate the outside of the Gothic Cathedrals. The principle is pretty much the same but with a different scope: while in he middle ages the Gargoyles where due to superstition, aimed at keeping the evil away, in the Baroque era such monsters where meant to welcome the visitors in a funny way, to impress them and in way to also protect the inhabitants of the palaces. Such new decorations are called “Grotesque Masks” or simply “Masks” and they usually display fantastic fauna, animals and beasts generatd by the creativity of the decorators. The inspiration was abviously that of the Gothic style but in the Baroque period such masks were conceived as a symbol of power, strenght, elegance and especially desecration.
It would take me a full encyclopedia to write about every single fantastic masks and beast that is found in the old town of Torino, thus I wil limit this post to some of the most iconic ones, that are easily visibile by anyome who is curious enough to walk around the city with his/her nose up. What you have to check are the portals of the noble palaces, the supports of the balconies, the decorations above the windows at the first floor as well as decorated stones placed randomly on the facades. Most of these sculptures also have a structural function. Those placed under the balconies, also support the weight of the balcony itself, and for such a reason they might also be pretty big, in some other cases, they are so small you have to scan the facade of the palace pretty carefully to spot them. The photographic gallery here below is therefore just a sample of what can be seen in Torino. Enjoy the view and if you plan to go visit Torino, don’t be scared of such monsters, they are there to protect you, starting from the Bull, which is the symbol of the city as well as a mask that you can see everywhere in the old town.