Grotesques

« The grotesque is a kind of free and humorous picture produced by the ancients for the decoration of vacant spaces in some position where only things placed high up are suitable. For this purpose, they fashioned monsters deformed by a freak of nature or by the whim and fancy of the workers, who in these grotesque pictures make things outside of any rule, attaching to the finest thread a weight that it cannot support, to a horse legs of leaves, to a man the legs of a crane, and similar follies and nonsense without end. He whose imagination ran the most oddly, was held to be the most able".
Giorgio Vasari, "About painting", circa 1550

In the late 15th century, Italians named "grotesques" the paintings which were covering vaults and walls of underground antic ruins that gave the impression of caves ("grotte" in Italian). From their rediscovery, and especially the finding of the Domus Aurea, the grotesques - copied or reinvented - enjoyed a large success which would only decline at the beginning of the 19th century. First used in mural ornamentation with Raphael, Michelangelo or Domenico Ghirlandaio, this decor was slowly disseminated into Europe by etchings and engravings, and his motifs were reported into gold or silver works, ceramics, or even furniture. After it was adapted to French Classicism, Jean Berain gave the grotesques a second wind.

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