Concept

Gaper

Summary
A gaper (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈɣaːpər]) is a stone or wooden figurehead, often depicting a Moor, Muslim, or North African. The figurehead first appeared in the late 16th century as a hangout sign used outside the storefronts of drug stores in the Netherlands. The meaning of gaper is the same in English; the figurehead is always displayed with an open mouth, sometimes with a pill resting on his tongue. The gaper's gaping tongue could represent the intake of medicine and grimace represents the bitter taste of the medicine. The gaper takes on various appearances that are symbolic of the origin for the pharmacist’s practice or medicinal ingredients. There are stories of the gaper as a symbol of the pharmacist’s traveling "quack" or helper. Recently, gaper figureheads have been stolen or removed from storefronts. Now, few remain within public view in the city of Amsterdam. Outside museum collections, fewer than 50 can be seen on buildings. Some have now lent their names to cafes, such as De Vergulde Gaper in Amsterdam. Turkish fashion, Japonerie, and Chinoiserie are said to be a source of inspiration for creating the gapers. The origin of the gaper, mostly Southern or exotic, symbolizes the origin of the ingredients used in the drugstore's medicines. During the 17th century, Western European trade with continents such as Asia and Africa introduced new spices from far and unknown places. Many exotic medicine components entered Europe through trade with the Ottoman Empire. Europeans traded with the Ottomans for senna leaves, opium, saffron, turmeric, and various resins, gums, and minerals, incense, myrrh, and bitumen. The spices and ingredients were brought back to Europe and later dried and sold by a chemist. Each gaper is hand cut and painted using a stone or wood base. They are usually displayed with an open mouth or with their tongues sticking out. Recent research indicates that the open mouth originates from the way the chemist's customers gaped with astonishment when they saw the enormous variety of exotic substances inside.
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