by John Holbo on June 7, 2014

I’ve been writing a survey article on “Caricature” for a forthcoming anthology on comics. I did that thing where you do too much research? And actually you don’t have that many words to play with? So sad.

Baudelaire is quite a clever fellow, of course, but it turns out the most sophisticated definition of ‘caricature’ comes from Walt Disney: “The true interpretation of caricature is the exaggeration of an illusion of the actual; or the sensation of the actual put into action.” That’s basically Ernst Gombrich’s philosophy of caricature – which is the correct one! – condensed. And Disney said it first.

I found part the quote in Walt Stanchfield, Drawn to Life [amazon], and was rather proud of my discovery. But it turns out it comes from a 1935 memo to Don Graham, which someone has posted online in its entirety. So I’m later to the party than I thought. Rats.

One thing that makes the topic slippery is that you can get bogged down in arguments over firsts. It’s rather traditional to start with Leonardo’s grotesque heads. But why not not start with a Paleolithic ‘venus’ figurine? Basically, you start using ‘caricature’ as a synonym for style, so all art is caricature. Probably you don’t want to go there – or just briefly.

But here’s a possible ‘who’s first?’ game we can play. What is the earliest case concerning which the means survive for us to enjoy, today, the classic caricature viewer experience? The amused moment of personal recognition – simultaneous seeing of likeness in not-likeness? I submit one should start with this portrait of Rudolf II, then look at Arcimboldo’s Vertumnus (1590). You can see it in the wheat eyebrows and radish eyebags. “Vaster than emperors, and more slow,” you might say.

Obviously it’s only our historical bad luck if we can’t find anything earlier. Can you push it back further?

Bonus points for earnestly wringing your hands about whether, by hinting that we can see what Rudolf ‘really’ looked like in the Heintz painting, I am implicated in a pernicious ideology of naive realism. Bless you, in advance, for your concern!



bob mcmanus 06.07.14 at 12:44 pm

Are you restricting caricature to visual representations and excluding texts or verbal representations?



GiT 06.07.14 at 1:11 pm


John Holbo 06.07.14 at 1:31 pm

Aristophanes because we can listen to real frog sounds and also listen to brek-ek-ek-co-ax-co-ax?

It’s true that caricature should, potentially, be extended to personal mimicry – of gait, voice, so forth. It would be great to know if Aristophanes tweaked the masks for his performances to look, ever so slightly, like real Athenians. It’s very hard for me to believe that no ancient Athenian produced some personal caricature. All the elements were there. The right sort of society, politics, visual culture. But, alas, no record of any such pictorial production exists.

Re the Bosch follower. I would certainly be willing to consider that this is caricature. It’s very like Leonardo’s grotesque heads. But obviously we don’t have a realistic portrait either of Jesus or Pilate. And neither did the artist. This is conventional portraiture, hence it lacks one of the major elements of caricature – namely, the successful capture of a real person’s likeness, which can then be recognized by viewers who are competent to recognize that individual as well.

It’s a good question whether the sorts of woodcut propaganda Cranach put out for Luther are caricatures or just icons or moral emblems.


William Timberman 06.07.14 at 1:37 pm

Some of the Roman portrait busts I’ve seen — who remembers where? — seemed to me to favor character over likeness. I may be wrong about that, but assuming it’s true, would you consider such representations a form of caricature — or is comic effect necessary to the definition?


John Holbo 06.07.14 at 1:49 pm

Roman portrait busts are an interesting case as well: the warts-and-all style. Just as Roman ornamentation is an interesting case: grotesques. These are borderline cases. Re: the portrait busts, there is a lack of comedy. But there is an appreciation of a kind of ugliness as a counter-ideal. That ugly old men can be strangely beautiful to look at is an important component of caricature.


Anon 06.07.14 at 1:53 pm

I’m not sure I entirely understand that definition, especially the suggestion that it’s a “sensation” or that the “actual is put into action.” It also seems inconsistent: “the actual put into action” doesn’t fit well with “illusion.”

I’d define a caricature is a representation that is more accurate than reality.

That’s because think the heart of caricature is two things: 1) exaggeration and 2) recognition. (2) means it’s concerned with truth. But if the goal is truth, then why (1), a form of inaccuracy and presumably of untruth? Certainly not, as the Disney quotes suggests, to heighten illusion.

But also not because, as the Disney quote also suggests, because there’s some sort of intrinsic illusoriness in reality. As Nietzsche says, the senses don’t lie at all, it’s reason that introduces lies with what it makes of their testimony. When I was a kid, my mother taught kindergarten. I spent a lot of time contemplating her students’ paintings and drawings. I was always puzzled by their overly sophisticated errors: they didn’t paint what they saw but what they *knew*. For example, most of them painted a band of green at the bottom for ground and a band of blue at the top for sky, with an empty white space in between. They’d never experienced such a thing, but they knew the sky’s up and the ground is down, so they reasoned their way to it. If they’d be less reasonable and just paint what they saw, they’d be more accurate.

Illusions are the work of reason. We never experience our experience directly, since it has always already been filtered and interpreted. If I show you what’s there, you won’t see what’s there. So, a caricature is a meta-filter to filter out the filters: to force us to see what’s really there by hiding what distracts us and heightening what we’re distracted from. It is less accurate as representation but producing more accurate vision. Like a corrective lense, it distorts the distortions of a broken eye until it sees straight.


John Holbo 06.07.14 at 1:54 pm

“seemed to me to favor character over likeness”

I’m not quite sure why you’d say that. They certainly do favor character – they are very individual and expressive. But do we know that it isn’t character through likeness? I think it might be fair to say they are probably all faintly caricatured. But the trouble is that all portraiture is stylized in some direction or other and presumably we don’t want to say that all portraiture is caricature by definition. You could define caricature as any portraiture that isn’t stylized in the direction of a generic standard of beauty.


bob mcmanus 06.07.14 at 1:57 pm

3: Well, Wiki starts with these two definitions, so I was wondering if we were limiting ourselves to the pictorial, which is ok fine if you want. The Wiki article concentrates on drawings.

“A caricature is a rendered image showing the features of its subject in a simplified or exaggerated way.

In literature, a caricature is a description of a person using exaggeration of some characteristics and oversimplification of others.[1]”

Amarna art: Akhenaten? (tiny children and other exaggerations in Ancient Egyptian art?)

“or is comic effect necessary to the definition?”


John Holbo 06.07.14 at 2:02 pm

The trouble with these definitions is that they all end up implying, more or less trivially, that all art is caricature. There’s something right about that. Caricature is exaggeration and exaggeration is inherently an elastic notion, so it’s sort of right that definitions of caricature should come out a bit exaggerated … potentially. It is clearly a family resemblance concept in which real personal likeness and exaggeration and comic effect are major components. If you don’t have two out of those three, you are not doing well – although if someone wants to settle for just one, fine.

As to the visual art/non-visual art axis – it’s true that ‘caricature’ means any sort of exaggerated presentation or representation of anything. But maybe we want to try to restrict that a little.


John Holbo 06.07.14 at 2:14 pm

“I’d define a caricature is a representation that is more accurate than reality.”

Then you will like Annibale Carracci’s definition (presumably written about the same time that Arcimboldo painted his Emperor):

“Is not the caricaturist’s task exactly the same as the classical artist’s? Both see the lasting truth beneath the surface of mere outward appearance. Both try to help nature accomplish its plan. The one may strive to visualize the perfect form and to realize it in his work, the other to grasp the perfect deformity, and thus reveal the very essence of a personality. A good caricature, like every work of art, is more true to life than the reality itself.” (quoted by Gombrich)

The Carracci give us our word for ‘caricature’ and taught quick-draw caricature in their academy. From “The Drawings of Annibale Carracci” (an amazing book!)

“They played visual games to increase their manual dexterity. One game entailed drawing several figures without lifting pen from paper. Another consisted of drawing a few lines to suggest a scene while the participants guessed what was presented. Exaggerating the features of a subject became a game in itself and the first true caricatures originated in the Carracci academy.”

I don’t really believe they were first, since Arcimboldo got their earlier. (His vegetable emperor was painted late, but a lot of his stuff came decades earlier and was clearly personal caricature – I would call it.) But the Carracci give us: quickness, personal likeness, comic effect. Their uses for caricature in their paintings are also related to Disney’s interest in animation, broadly speaking. The Carracci wanted to know what were the tricks for making things read, visually, as life-like – that is, as in motion – if you couldn’t actually make them move in a realistic way. (The Carracci couldn’t make them move because they were paintings. Disney couldn’t make them move realistically, because they were too simplified. What non-realistic thing will produce ‘the illusion of life’, to take the title from the Disney animation Bible.)


John Holbo 06.07.14 at 2:22 pm

Excuse me: Annibale didn’t write that. It can only be a quote from an early biographer. Gombrich quotes it but without a reference. I think it’s from Massani.


Anon 06.07.14 at 2:31 pm

I like the definition (“more true to life than the reality itself”), but don’t agree with the explanation. Carracci’s view of both classical artist and caricaturist is Platonic: an indirect presentation of the unpresented ideal. In the classical artist’s case, they present the perfect that the real falls short of of, in the caricaturist’s case, they exaggerate the real’s shortcomings to indirectly suggest the perfect. (It’s interesting as a sidenote that on this view the caricaturist would, I think, be the superior artist, since they don’t try to present the unpresentable as presentable. That is, they don’t lie.)

But my view is that the real is what’s there, in experience, but has been ignored, unnoticed, or distracted from. The job of caricature is to make you see what’s there, not some ideal, more perfect type behind the instance. One way it does this is by, in the many characteristics that are average or similar, identifying the distinctive ones and exaggerating them so that we are no longer distracted from them by the ordinary ones.

Again, Nietzsche seems relevant, since his view of consciousness is that it’s principle function is to falsely see identities where they are not, for practical reasons. Consciousness simplifies and in doing so falsifies. Caricatures reverse this simplification, simplifying in the opposite direction, to bring out non-identities, truths.


Anon 06.07.14 at 2:39 pm

“Disney couldn’t make them move realistically, because they were too simplified. What non-realistic thing will produce ‘the illusion of life’, to take the title from the Disney animation Bible.”

This is a good example of the surprising truth that a theory of caricature must explain: why does exagerration look more realistic than non-exagerration? Why does the bouncing ball that turns into a pancake and stretches into a sausage mid bounce look not just better but more “life like”, more “real”?

I don’t think it’s a substitute for realism because cartoon characters are “too simplified” to “move realistically.” Sure, Mickey Mouse can’t move realistically, but the bouncing ball can, or the fall snow, the leaves on the trees, the more realistically drawn characters in any number of animated films can. No, it’s not necessity. We choose to exaggerate animation because it looks more real. So what I try to explain in my definition of caricature is why exaggeration looks more real.


John Holbo 06.07.14 at 2:50 pm

“Why does the bouncing ball that turns into a pancake and stretches into a sausage mid bounce look not just better but more “life like”, more “real”?”

I’m thinking of making a squash-and-stretch joke in the paper about Wölfflin’s characterization of Renaissance as about circles, the Baroque as about ovals. But maybe that would be stretching it.

On a more serious note, I think it’s important that realism – if that names an effect – has to be life-like. But life-like things don’t have to be realistic, or even seem realistic. Disney characters look alive. More alive than living beings. But they don’t look realistic.

Subtle caricature is a technique of realism, because the viewer mistakes a sense of life-likeness for realism. But overt caricature is a technique of anti-realism.


John Holbo 06.07.14 at 3:04 pm

Here are a couple of quotes from “The Illusion of Life”, illustrating the difficulty one gets in, mixing up life-like and realistic and caricature.

“Caricature” and “exaggeration” were two favorite words [of Disney] to stimulate the animator’s approach to his scene. These words could be misinterpreted as a request for wild, uncontrolled action, but that course always ended up with ‘Look, you’re not getting the idea of what we’re after here!’ The action had to be based on realism, had to fit the story situation, put over the point of the scene.” (37)

“There was some confusion among the animators when Walt first asked for more realism and then criticized the result because it was not exaggerated enough. In Walt’s mind, there was probably no difference.” (65)


John Holbo 06.07.14 at 3:05 pm

Just to make my piont clear: what I’m suggesting is that if Disney had told his animators that he wanted life-likeness NOT realism, that would have been clearer.


Harold 06.07.14 at 3:16 pm

It would be interesting to track down that quote. Intuitively, I would think it goes back to the classical theory of moral types, called “characters”, in classical rhetoric — in which everything was supposed to have a morally didactic justification.

According to French wikipedia Aristotle defined character as an essential element of tragedy:

Au théâtre, on appelle caractère l’ensemble des traits physiques, psychologiques et sociaux d’un personnage.

Les caractères constituent, selon Aristote, un des six éléments de la tragédie, avec le chant, l’élocution, la fable, la pensée et le spectacle.

D’après Chamfort, le caractère est « l’inclination ou la passion dominante qui éclate dans toutes les démarches et les discours de ces personnages, qui est le principe et le premier mobile de toutes leurs actions » : l’ambition dans César, la jalousie dans Hermione, la vengeance dans Atrée, la probité dans Burrhus.The characters are, according to Aristotle , one of the six elements of tragedy , with the song , the speech , the fable , the thought and sight .

Translation (via wiki):
In the theater , we call character all the physical, psychological and social traits of a character .
The characters are, according to Aristotle , one of the six elements of tragedy , along with song, speech, fable, thought and sight .
According Chamfort , the character is “the inclination or the ruling passion that manifests itself in all the actions and speeches of the characters, and that is the first principle and motive of all their actions “the ambition of Caesar, jealousy in Hermione , the vengeance in Atreus , probity Burrhus.


John Holbo 06.07.14 at 3:23 pm

“It would be interesting to track down that quote.”

I checked to make sure it wasn’t Malvasia or someone else and I was right. It must be from Massani, who wrote under the pseudonym Mosini. (Confusing!)

See footnote 84 here:


William Timberman 06.07.14 at 3:24 pm

John Holbo @ 7

I’m not quite sure why you’d say that.

Perhaps character wasn’t the best choice of words. My impression of many of these busts was that they exaggerated certain features not for the purpose of recalling the individual, but for almost exactly the opposite reason, that is, to assert that the individual was being honored for his embodiment of certain idealized virtues. Character in that sense is not personality, although we moderns often seem to confuse the two.

I admit that my appreciation of the portraits may have been colored to some extent by what I’d read in popular descriptions of Roman sentiments about duty, honor, perseverance, etc., but at any rate, that is what I saw, and that’s why I immediately thought of them in the context of caricature. It’s a nobler, or perhaps more pretentious version, I suppose, of seeing Pantalone in the sly old geezer you encounter at the table next to you in Starbucks.

The Roman versions were often very crude, I thought, but a more talented sculptor, in the pursuit of the individual rather than the ideological, can turn out something equally lively, equally reminiscent of the living person, without leaving any hint of caricature at all, at least that I can recognize as such. Consider, for example, Houdon’s portraits of Voltaire.


Harold 06.07.14 at 3:56 pm

Wm Timmerman @19 I think you are exactly right. The classical ideal was always to pick out the general (because it was considered as applying to everyone, at least potentially, and was hence more edifying). But at the same time, I think the Romans were more interested in the particular. Of course, the idea of moral grandeur shining out through apparent grotesqueness or deformity goes back to Alcibiades description of Socrates as a Silenus box.


Harold 06.07.14 at 3:59 pm

More from French wiki (On Theophrastus’s “Characters”):
#Definition of character in Greek
Plato discusses “character”, and in his dialog “The Laws” recalls the etymological origin of the Greek word χαρακτήρ , that is to say, a brand given to slaves, explaining that “when a man has taken looting a temple, whether slave or foreigner, we imprint on their faces and hands the mark of the crime “. This explains why each portrait of Theophrastus is that of a moral defect. The notion of character was not the same at the time of Theophrastus as in modern times: there is a great difference between morality as ethics and what is meant by moral character in Theophrastus’s book, which aims to lay before us the vices in action; the book is a simple instruction on manners in order to to make the less learned wise.

The idea of “character” itself goes back to Aristotle and is illustrated by him in Book II of his Rhetoric 2 , but especially in Book IV of the Nicomachean Ethics 3 with the famous portrait of the “magnanimous” man. Additionally, Theophrastus’s portraits of Character VII( The Verbose ) and Character IX ( the Impudent ) are identical to the definition given by the Pseudo-Plato in definitions, just as those of the Hypocrite (character I) and verbose (Character II) are derived from two Ethics of Aristotle, the Nicomachean Ethics and the Eudemian Ethics .

The Superstitious (Character XVI) is perhaps Theophrastus’s most celebrated portraits. Jacques Lacan refers to “obsessive Theophrastus.” Modern science describes such people as compulsive, and speaks of patients as having obsessive compulsive disorders, on account of their having repeated rituals. In his essay “On Superstition” Plutarch refers to the superstitious character: “But of all fears, that which is born of superstition is the most sterile and alienating.”


Anon 06.07.14 at 4:02 pm

I too had my doubts about my own implied equation of “more lifelike” and “more realistic.” Sure, they might not be equivalent, but I’m not sure how to clarify the distinction.

I think part of what I find interesting about caricature is that it upsets and undermines the realism, anti-realism distinction. I think it raises questions about what kind of questionable assumptions about reality are at the bottom of realism. In some sense, it’s already begging the question to say that caricature “exaggerates,” since it takes for granted a clear, unambiguous object of representation along with its clear, unambiguous representation, in relation to which we identify exaggeration.

I think a theory of representation needs an ontology, and that caricature is most interesting if we see it as a rejection of realist ontology. I’d imagine it as something like: there are objects and there are action, movement, events. Realism designates accurate representation of objects, while life-likeness designates accurate representation of action.

But if, hypothetically, objects and actions are not really distinct, can a clear line be drawn between realistic and lifelike? Could a representation that fails to be lifelike really be realistic?


John Holbo 06.07.14 at 4:03 pm

“the idea of moral grandeur shining out through apparent grotesqueness or deformity goes back to Alcibiades description of Socrates as a Silenus box.”

This is a good illustration of why I can’t believe that the ancient Athenians never invented some form of caricature. I figure it was invented, in some ephemeral form, and then lost.


Harold 06.07.14 at 4:06 pm

Re Hogarth:
A character sketch is an abbreviated portrayal of a particular characteristic of people. The term originates in portraiture, where the character sketch is a common academic exercise. Following the translation of Theophrastus’s Characters into English, a number of British and American painters attempted to illustrate the “types” of humanity. As late as William Hogarth, portraitists were doing studies of (in his case), Nine heads. The artist performing a character sketch attempts to capture an expression or gesture that goes beyond coincident actions and gets to the essence of the individual.
… Henry Fielding, in book I, chapter 14 of Joseph Andrews, invokes William Hogarth to create a character sketch of Mrs. Tow-wouse: “Indeed, if Mrs. Tow-wouse had given no Utterance to the Sweetness of her Temper, Nature had taken such Pains in her Countenance, that Hogarth himself never gave more Expression to a Picture.” …….


roger gathman 06.07.14 at 4:12 pm

I hope you quote benoit Peeters book on the cartoon book, and the surprising role of Goethe in encouraging the man Peeters claims as the inventor of the graphics novel: Rudolf Toepffer. As so often in life, it all boils down to a choice between Goethe and Disney.


PJW 06.07.14 at 4:47 pm

Surely there are examples in Stone Age art that fit the Disney definition. I thought of the horses in the Caves of Lascaux but am unsure if that quite works. BUt what about these Venus figurines?


shah8 06.07.14 at 4:50 pm

On the topic of “life-like” and “realistic” and exaggeration. And perhaps wandering away from Greeks and Romans and Italians for a second…

What about Akhenaten and Nefertiti? The general style of the era tended to use greater realism to emphasis ideals related to the religion of the time. However, not very much documentation of how artists approached their subjects intellectually.


Sasha Clarkson 06.07.14 at 5:18 pm


Harold 06.07.14 at 5:23 pm

It is interesting that Addison and Steele quoted a supposedly Italian word “caracatura” — is this a spelling error, because standard dictionaries and etymologies give the word as “caricatura”, from the Italian “caricato” — “loaded” (as with meaning), or “carico” — “exaggerated”? Still, I wonder if the Italian word didn’t begin as a pun (on “carratere”, “character”), but the waters of etymology are too dangerous to venture into without evidence.


Anon 06.07.14 at 5:34 pm

Say I paint a completely accurate painting of a sleeping human being that is identical in every respect to a completely accurate painting of a very fresh human corpse.

The two paintings are identical. However, I’m inclined to say the painting of the corpse is realistic, while the painting of the sleeping person is not realistic. Sleeping people don’t really, apart from some unusual act of interpretation or set of circumstances, look like corpses, since to see a human being is to see a body not as an inert object but as a moment in a sequence, a set of actual and potential activities (even when sleeping I see it as mid-breathing, mid-snore, mid-dreaming, having just settled in, or just about to wake up). The same is true of any object. I don’t see a stone as an inert object, but as a projectile, a building block, a cut on my hand, a source of my stumbling in my climb, etc.

“Realism” then is a mistake that falsifies reality by taking things out of action and time. Lifelikeness is true realism because it attempts to restore time and activity to objects, making them appear as they “really” do.


Harold 06.07.14 at 5:56 pm

Thank you John Holbo, for the link to the Anne Summerscale bio. She shows that the earliest sources do refer to the 17th c. grotesques attributed to Carraci of workmen and the like as “ritrattini carichi” (charged little portraits). And the word caricatura, appears under the entry “carico” (“charged”) in a late 17th c. Vocabulario toscano.

Interestingly (to me at any rate) when traveling in Germany in Weimar we came upon an entry in our guidebook to nearby place where one of the earliest popularizers of garden gnomes (nineteenth c.), Philip Griebel, had used local miners as subjects. The gnomes, which go back to late 16th c. Italians grotesques called gobbi (hunchbacks or dwarves), and before Griebel had been just one of many kinds of supposedly grotesque (i.e., nature spirits suitable for caves) ornaments one could purchase for one’s garden. So in the end it all goes back to Disney and Goethe …. and Socrates as a Silenus who was a repository of divine “natural” wisdom (Socrates was not an “elite” noble but a humble craftsman or working man).

I feel sure that John Holbo is right about the Athenians, and the tradition is probably earlier than that, one would imagine.


Teachable Mo' 06.07.14 at 7:30 pm

re: 31

The facial muscles of a sleeping person still function. In a corpse they are slack. Twice I’ve seen pictures of a recently deceased famous person — Marilyn Monroe and John Lennon — and each time if it weren’t for the photo caption I wouldn’t have known the identity of the body.


Shatterface 06.08.14 at 12:40 am

I think animated characatures look lifelike in comparison to photorealistic CGI characters because the latter look deathlike.

Its an uncanny valley effect.


A H 06.08.14 at 3:40 am

Buddhist art is full of caricatures to my eyes untrained eyes at least. Take this laughing buddha from lingyin temple made in the 10th century,

or the four guardian kings,

Are traditional Chinese landscapes caricatures of landscapes?


John Holbo 06.08.14 at 4:35 am

“Are traditional Chinese landscapes caricatures of landscapes?”

Ha! I’ll give you a better question. Is a drop of pure white, to make that vase look more ‘life-like’, a caricature of light?


dbk 06.08.14 at 5:53 am

Fascinating, absolutely fascinating. Contuining on comments above by JH, WT, and Harold: the Late Hellenistic period (3rd-2nd c. BC) developed a couple of minor genres (small bronzes, terracotta figurines) the “Hellenistic grotesque”, which art critics have often label as “caricatures”. Certainly they present two of the desired features as defined here: exaggeration and heightened realism (the latter a feature of this period of art in the major genres as well, and in fact it is assumed to have made possible the birth of realistic Roman portrait sculpture).


On the broader–the fascinating–question of why it should be that “exaggeration” may result in an impression of “realer (than real)”, perhaps it is that this feature compels our brains to revert from their normal practice of generalization/categorization back to the specific and individual – and because (real) reality is actually an ongoing confrontation with the specific and individual, this forcing of the brain to perceive the specific/individual forces us back to unfiltered reality?


godoggo 06.08.14 at 6:34 am

Some very nice 13th century greedy big-nosed Jews just before the word “Moneylenders” (page won’t let me view image):'sZionism/01EinsteinBeforeZionism.htm


godoggo 06.08.14 at 6:35 am

Sorry, “Moneylending.”


Nigel Holmes 06.08.14 at 7:35 am

Has anyone linked to this ancient graffiti yet?


godoggo 06.08.14 at 8:36 am

No, I looked at it, but I don’t think it fits the definition.


m.j. 06.08.14 at 9:35 am

totem poles


Harold 06.08.14 at 11:38 am


Harold 06.08.14 at 12:31 pm

Re-reading all these fascinating comments with interest. I liked the observation of Anon 12 who suggested that caricature (or exaggeration) was the reverse side of the coin of idealization — in its revelation of the “extraneous detail” that had been suppressed according to the tenets of classical representation, which forbade numbering “the streaks of the tulip.”

Interesting that the Carracci (or their interpreters) followed classical tradition in claiming to be portray a Platonic ideal of ugliness in what they saw as instances of the playfulness of nature.

Here is a link that recalls the role of the theater (the mass media of antiquity), with its exaggerated masks (representing the various characters), in the history of caricature:


Harold 06.08.14 at 3:18 pm

The mask that reveals.
I don’t mean to bore everyone with my enthusiasm, but this article (in Italian) by Sara Bello locates Rome as another center (along with Bologna) of caricature and mentions the venerable Roman tradition of the satirical Pasquinade (see Pasquino in wikipedia) then prevalent there, as a probable influence.

Bello mentions the acclaimed Baroque sculptor Bernini as a notable caricaturist of contemporary Popes (some of his drawings were called at the time “living [as opposed to written] pasquinades”):
“His exhilarating wit allowed him to seize and translate onto paper the salient characteristics of the person portrayed and to amplify them for comic effect. His intuitive talent combined a severe economy of technical means — a graphic style reduced to the most elementary lines — with maximum expressive efficiency, made all the more incisive by the rapid synthesis of the pen strokes.” (My translations)
“How did an artist come to be granted the freedom to poke fun at victims of such exalted status? For one thing, Bernini’s irreverence was free of condemnation or moral implications but rather consisted of a good natured, if impudent irony. In addition, the targets of his mockery were theater-goers and lovers of the Commedia dell’Arte. Not coincidentally Bernini received numerous commissions as a set designer and was thus very familiar with the genre of theatrical farce.”

It was Bernini, Bello’s article goes on, who traveled to Paris and brought the genre of caricature to France. The second part of the article calls the 18th century “the golden age of caricature” and has more about the theater and developments in Venice.


Harold 06.08.14 at 3:23 pm

Oops, “visive” = “visual”, not “living” — “Visual Pasquinades” not “living Pasquinades”, excuse the automatic pilot.


David Duffy 06.11.14 at 8:45 am

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