History Of Caricature

Historically, caricature is difficult to distinguish from illustration or comical art. In his book A History of Caricature and Grotesque in Literature and Art, Thomas Wright gives evidence of caricature in Egypt. He writes of an example in which a scene shows a small boat with provisions that runs into the back of a larger funeral boat, upsetting the tables of cakes and other supplies (1968).

Other Egyptian examples show animals employed in occupations usually reserved for humans. This role reversal, demonstrating the impossible notion of animals assuming human tasks, is humorous (Wright, 1968).

Wright discusses examples of Greek and Roman satiric drama in which parody shows in masks, and a sculpture in which a Gaul is presented ' ..thrusting out his tongue in a very unbecoming manner' (1968). He writes of how the Greeks parodied sacred subjects; even their gods were treated with disrespect in pictorial representation. In another example, Pompeiian drawings picture pygmies or dwarfs with extremely large heads and very small arms and legs (Wright, 1968).

The Middle Ages provide examples of carnivals, festivals and enjoyment of the ludicrous. A manuscript from this time provides an example of two demons tripping a monk and throwing him in a river. This burlesque is evident in the Middle Ages ' idea of the world turned upside down. Another example is a drawing of a blacksmith where a goose has taken the place of a horse and he is nailing a shoe on the webbed foot (Wright, 1968). These examples from the Middle Ages seem to interchange humorous art with that of caricature.

Other more recent researchers suggest that caricature is a relatively recent art. Ernst Gombrich and Ernst Kris have undertaken a comprehensive study of caricature. In their research, they discover a rebirth of caricature, as opposed to humorous art, in that portrait caricature was uncommon before the end of the sixteenth century. For them the '.conscious distortion of the features of a person with the aim of ridicule ' is substantially different from comic art (Kris & Gombrich, 1938). Although satirical writing was prevalent prior to the Renaissance, the Gombrich and Kris study questioned why artists had not used caricature:

The belief in the magical sign and the thing signified is deepest rooted in pictorial art. Whilst words are easier understood as conventional signs which one can play with, alter and change without affecting the essence of the being they signify, a picture remains for us for all time a sort of double, which we dare not damage for fear that we might injure the person or being itself. Image-magic is perhaps the most widespread of all spells. (Kris & Gombrich, 1938: 339)

Particularly in Renaissance Italy, artists were revered as creators and given credit for talent rather than being a tool of the church. An explanation lies partly in a shift of their role in society. This esteemed position meant that they were valuable, and powerful people sought their talent and expertise. The artist possessed '.the supreme right of the poet, to form a reality of his own' (Kris & Gombrich, 1938: 331). The work of art was viewed as a projection of an inner image, and these fanciful ideas and combinations emerged from the imagination of the artists themselves. Gombrich and Kris acknowledge the new respect for the artist 's individual talent: ' [i]magination rather than technical ability, vision and invention, inspiration and genius made the artist, not merely the mastering of the intricacies of handicraft' (Kris & Gombrich, 1938: 331).

The nature of caricature depends upon memory, imagination and fantasy. The use of ridicule originates from a memory of specific characteristics of a figure. Likewise, memory assists viewer's to recognize and understand humor, because they also know from memory the figure 's peculiarities. The imagination of caricaturists demonstrates the techniques of transformation, ambiguity and condensation, which they employ to ridicule and expose the true personality of their subjects (Kris & Gombrich, 1938).

Imagination may be engaged as the caricaturist must formulate and recombine visual forms to expose an underlying truth. In a similar way, fantasy reinforces the strange juxtaposition of the two-dimensional drawn visual forms, which may be referred to as 'images', and the disintegration of deformation. To elucidate this deformation in the ridicule of caricature, Gombrich and Kris, in another collaboration about caricature, discuss an artist whom they perceive as the first or foremost caricaturist — Annibale Carracci (1560—1609):

It was in the first place a discovery concerning the nature of likeness. To put it briefly, it was the discovery that similarity is not essential to likeness. The deliberate distortion of single features is not incompatible with a striking likeness in the whole. True caricature in this new sense is not content with drawing a long nose just a little longer, or a broad chin just a bit broader. Such partial distortions are characteristic only of superficial or immature work. The real aim of the true caricaturist is to transform the whole man into a completely new and ridiculous figure which nevertheless resembles the original in a striking and surprising way. (Gombrich & Kris, 1940: 12)

Annibale and Agostino Carracci are credited with naming these altered portraits iitrattina carichi, meaning 'loaded portraits'. The historic popularity of caricature is revealed by a 1646 Trattato in which A. Mosini provided a definition of caricature. Other Renaissance artists practicing this art included Pier Leone Ghezzi, Giovanni Bracelli and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Furthermore, Bernini was the sculptor and architect who had been attributed with transporting the concept of caricature to France in the seventeenth century (Horn, 1980).

It was Thomas Brown who introduced the term caricature to England, and other famous caricaturists include Thomas Rowlandson, James Gillray and William Hogarth 's (1697—1764) elaborate caricature series starting with 'A Harlot 's Progress' in 1732. Honoré Daumier and Charles Philipon drew political cartoons in France; especially notable is ' the pear king Louis-Philippe ' . Americans also produced early political cartoons, notably those of Benjamin Franklin (Horn, 1980). Other parts of the world, such as Japan, also embraced comic and caricature art, but many of these images take the form of humor rather than caricature.

More recently, Charles Baudelaire explored the philosophical notion of the comic and caricature. He wrote about the nature of their methods, irony and sarcasm, understatement and extravagance, violence and insinuation, and farce and wit (Hannoosh 1992). He expressed the low and coarse in contrast to the extraordinary aesthetic importance of art. This dualism accents that laughter contains a measure of pain, reminding humans of their ' .inferiority and mortality, of the dualism necessary to art, and thus of our potential for transcendence ' (Hannoosh, 1992). Architects, similar to artists, understand the multiple levels on which sketches convey impressions.

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