A History of Caricature and Grotesque
In Literature and Art
By Thomas Wright
Brand New Edition
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. Caricatures can be insulting or complimentary and can serve a political purpose or be drawn solely for entertainment. Caricatures of politicians are commonly used in editorial cartoons, while caricatures of movie stars are often found in entertainment magazines. The term is derived from the Italian caricare—to charge or load. An early definition occurs in the English doctor Thomas Browne's Christian Morals, published posthumously in 1716. Expose not thy self by four-footed manners unto monstrous draughts, and Caricatura representations. When Men's faces are drawn with resemblance to some other Animals, the Italians call it, to be drawn in Caricatura.
Thus, the word "caricature" essentially means a "loaded portrait". According to School of Visual Arts caricature instructor Sam Viviano, the term refers only to depictions of real-life people, and not to cartoon fabrications of fictional characters, which do not possess objective sets of physiognomic features to draw upon for reference, or to anthropomorphic depictions of inanimate objects such as automobiles or coffee mugs. Walt Disney, on the other hand, equated his animation to caricature, saying the hardest thing to do was find the caricature of an animal that worked best as a human-like character.
It is not my intention in the following pages to discuss the question what constitutes the comic or the laughable, or, in other words, to enter into the philosophy of the subject; I design only to trace the history of its outward development, the various forms it has assumed, and its social influence. Laughter appears to be almost a necessity of human nature, in all conditions of man’s existence, however rude or however cultivated; and some of the greatest men of all ages, men of the most refined intellects, such as Cicero in the ages of antiquity, and Erasmus among the moderns, have been celebrated for their indulgence in it. The former was sometimes called by his opponents scurra consularis, the “consular jester;” and the latter, who has been spoken of as the “mocking-bird,” is said to have laughed so immoderately over the well-known “Epistolæ Obscurorum Virorum,” that he brought upon himself a serious fit of illness. The greatest of comic writers, Aristophanes, has always been looked upon as a model of literary perfection.
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