A caricature is a portrait of a person that exaggerates certain features in order to express the essence of the person and still make the subject easily identifiable. Although it is often viewed as a comic type of art today, it has a rather long history. The earliest forms date back to ancient days. In the excavations at the Roman city of Pompeii, crude pictures were found drawn on the walls of some buildings that very much resembled caricature. At least, the purpose was obviously the same. The word comes from an Italian verb that means “to load.” The true purpose of caricature was conceived as “loading” the portrait with as much meaning as possible. Some of the earliest preserved examples come from the works of Leonardo Da Vinci, who sought out models with deformities for his portraits.
In the 17th century, Caricature emerged as a distinct art form with the works of an Italian artist named Annibale Caracci. Caracci’s concept was called the “antithesis of beauty.” Rather than following the normal trend of the time which was to imbue subjects with as much beauty as possible, the caricature drawing was intended to produce a portrait that was loaded with meaning. Another early Master was Gianlorenzo Bernini who was said to be able to produce a remarkable and loaded portrait of a person with a mere three or four strokes. This early form of caricatures was the province of the rich who had them produced for amusement.
The art form passed to England in the middle of the 18th century and at first it was also an amusement of the upper class. In the 19th Century with the advent of mass printing and the rise of Newspapers, caricature took on a new and darker purpose. It was the time of the political cartoon, and the caricature became a method of mockery and derision aimed at leaders. In the United States in the years after World War I, caricature enjoyed its Golden Age. Although the political cartoon remained popular, the art form also became colorful, fun, and complimentary. It was not just the negatives that were sought as an essence during this period, and celebrity caricatures became more popular and in demand in magazines than even actual photographs.
Today caricature remains in political cartoons and celebrity magazines, but has also become an art form of the people as artists working on street corners and fairs produce inexpensive caricature drawings for a small fee.
A Brief History of Caricatures
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