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18 Jun 2017
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Where Did Caricatures Originate?

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Posted By Van H.

A caricature is a portrait, painting or cartoon that exaggerates or distorts certain features of a person or item to generate an easily identifiable visual similarity.

Caricatures can be discourteous or flattering and can serve a political point or be drawn simply for entertainment. Caricatures of politicians are frequently used in editorial cartoons, whilst caricatures of movie stars are often found in entertainment magazines.

The term is derived from the Italian caricare- to charge or load. So, the word "caricature" essentially says a "loaded portrait". Strictly speaking , the term refers only to depictions of real-life people, and not to cartoon fabrications of fictional characters.

However the world-renowned animator Walt Disney claimed that his animation work could be compared with caricature, saying the hardest thing to do was find the caricature of an animal that worked best as a human-like character.

One of the earliest instances of a caricature has been discovered in the ruins of Pompeii where a graffiti caricature of a politician had been carved on a wall.

Moving forward nearly 1500 years but remaining in Italy, Leonardo da Vinci was an active exponent of the art. He actually sought out people with some kind of deformity to use as models.

The purpose of a caricature was to offer an impression of the original which was more striking than a portrait. Diodemmar Casem, one of the great early exponents, claimed to be able to sum up a person in ? three or four strokes of the pen?.

Caricature experienced its first successes in the closed aristocratic circles of France and Italy, where such portraits would be passed about for mutual satisfaction.

Mary Darley was one of the first professional caricaturists in England and about 1762 published the first book of caricature drawing in England - A Book of Caricaturas

However, the two greatest exponents of the art of the caricature in the 18th century were Thomas Rowlandson and James Gillray. Their styles of output were in great contrast. Rowlandson was the more artistic of the two and took his inspiration from the public at large.

Gillray, on the other hand, was more interested in the political scene and used his art to lampoon political life. Being contemporaries they became big friends and used to spend a lot of time getting drunk in the taverns of London.

In drawing a caricature the caricaturist can choose to either subtly mock or cruelly wound his victim. Drawing caricatures can simply be a form of entertainment and amusement ? in which case gentle mockery is in order ? or the art can be employed to make a significant social or political point.

A caricaturist draws on (1) the natural characteristics of the victim (the big ears, long nose, etc.); (2) the acquired individuality (stoop, scars, facial lines etc.); and (3) the vanities (choice of hair style, spectacles, garments, expressions and mannerisms).

Although caricaturists like Gillray raised a lot of controversy in the 18th century by their portrayal of the Royal family and especially George III, it was nothing compared to the present day uproar in the Muslim world brought about by cartoons caricaturing the prophet Mohammed. So the contemporary day caricaturist continues in the satirical mode of his illustrious predecessors.

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