Walking along Queen Anne’s Gate the mascarons reminded me of Bordeaux. They have monster faces and in ancient times they would have been placed over doors and windows to scare away evil spirits.  In Bordeaux virtually every building in the city centre has them, only Paris has more. They became fashionable in France during the reign of Louis XIV and were featured in the Palace of Versailles. The idea probably came from Italy where there are C15th examples but the idea is even older. Ancient Greeks would put a statue of Hermes, god of thieves among other things, or the evil eye outside houses for protection, it takes one to know one.

In Louis XIV’s court they would have been purely for embellishment. The date of Queen Anne’s Gate, built 1704-5 corresponds with the last years of Louis XIV (he reigned from 1643-1715). I must admit I was disturbed that some of the features and headdress of the monsters in Queen Anne’s Gate look like native Americans, they would not be depicted in such a way now. We tend to call them Masks in England but masks depict humans or gods not monsters. 

The Bordeaux masks of a man and a woman in contemporary dress are either side of a window lintel on a large house built for Mathieu Martin in 1612 so presumably this is him and his wife.

The mascaron at the top of the page with crazy eyes and fawn’s ears is over the entrance gate to 22 rue Margaux, l’hotel de Brassier dates from mid C19th. The writer, Francois Mauriac’s family had an apartment in the building and he spent his childhood here and in Les Landes where his family owned pine forests, the big industry there when he was a child was the collection of pine resin. He describes it in his last book, Un Adolescent d’Autrefois. I love the huge gates of old patrician houses in Bordeaux and their floor to ceiling doors. An elderly French friend of mine had a saying in patois that a big gate was the sign of a wealthy family.

Below are some photos of Queen Anne’s Gate, a small but beautiful street near St James Park.

About the author: Gail Jones