George Cruikshank


Caricature Drawings by George Cruikshank


Caricature [from Italian caricatura, charge, loading, derivative of caricare, to load]: a grotesque representation in art. Caricature is of two kinds: the first confines itself to giving merely an exaggerated prominence to deformities and physical infirmities; the second, which alone is worthy of serious consideration, while giving prominence to the grotesque aspects, is concerned more especially with manís vices, weaknesses, or passions. The first is a mere grotesque amusement; the second may become cruel personal injury, revengeful satire, or the most redoubtable means of public censure. Caricature, in the latter aspect, has unquestionably played no small part in political and social movements. Caricature is more than picturesque satire: it partakes of the character of the burlesque and of comedy. It is violent and unrestrained only in periods of social effervescence; but it is hardly just to say that it has no significance except in crises, for its role is less to reflect revolutions than to prepare the way for them.

Caricature was employed in remote antiquity to score and to ridicule vices. The Assyrians, the Egyptians, and the Greeks cultivated this branch of art successfully. The Greeks especially carried this species of satire so "far that they did not even spare their gods. The most notable Greek artist in this line was Pozon. Egypt was as bold in caricature as Greece. The Egyptian Museum at Turin possesses the fragments of a papyrus which represents people by animals, which careful study has shown to be a caricature of an Egyptian sculpture of four women playing on musical instruments.

The British Museum possesses a papyrus of similar character. The Romans greatly enjoyed caricature. Cicero speaks in his De Oratore of pictures which so exaggerated certain physical deformities as to excite laughter. Caricatures were even painted on public monuments. Pliny speaks of a painter named Antiphilus, who conceived the idea of a picture represented in grotesque garb, to which he gave the name of Gryllus. This afterward became the common designation of pictures of that sort.

A caricature of Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanus was found in the ruins of Pompeii, in which the three fugitive Trojans were represented with dogís heads. Numerous other caricatures are found in the same ruined city. The Jesuit Garruei found in the catacombs of Rome a caricature of the crucifixion of Christ which represents a man standing with his arms extended in an attitude of adoration before the cross, on which hangs a human body with an assís head. Beneath is this ironical legend, ď Alaxamenus is adoring God.Ē The miniatures in manuscripts of the Middle Ages, even the most religious, are often caricatures of great skill and fineness of execution. During this period all art was colored with the spirit of caricature. Most of the sculptures that ornament the cathedrals with their burlesque and grotesque attitudes were true caricatures in stone. Very curious caricatures may still be seen on the portals of the cathedrals at Rouen, Amiens, Chartres, and elsewhere. After the Renaissance caricature reappeared in more vigorous form than ever in Italy. Leonardo Da Vinci was distinguished for his satirical compositions, as was also Carrache the Florentine and Baccio del Binco.

The Venetian Pietro Belloti, and later in the eighteenth century the Roman Pierleone Ghezzi, were distinguished caricaturists. Caricature early spread among the countries of the north. In Germany Holbein became most distinguished. Among his principal works of this character are the Dance of Death, and illustrations for the Praise of Folly of his friend Erasmus. In France in the seventeenth century Callot was the leader in this art. The Fronde called forth innumerable caricatures, but they were less cruel than those that attacked Louis XIV. toward the close of his reign. Louis XV. was not spared. Hardly a day passed without an order to the police to discover and punish the authors of the caricatures with which Paris was flooded, the subjects of which were Louis XV. and his relations with Mesdames de Pompadour, Du Barry, et al.

The revolution of 1789 stirred up caricature anew. The king and queen were especially attacked, and later all the different parties were assailed in their turn. The first emperor controlled caricature as everything else, but Louis Philippe was its special victim. His pear-shaped head was an admirable point of attack for the caricaturists. Charles Philipon founded Nov. 4, 1880, La Caricature, which was devoted to attacking and exciting the Government. To this succeeded Charivari and the Journal pour Rire. The most notable caricaturist of England was Hogarth. He is one of the most humorous and vigorous of all artists of this class. Gillray, Bunbury, and Cruikshank are also distinguished in this line in England.

In no country of Europe has political caricature had such free play as in England. The most eminent Spanish caricaturist is Goya. In recent years Du Maurier in England has won great fame in the field of social caricature. In the U. S. caricature has had wide development and free scope. Perhaps its power as a political agent was never so fully illustrated as during the exposure of the Tweed Ring in New York, when public sentiment was very largely formed by the sketches of Nast in Harper's Weekly. Among the leading journals largely devoted to caricature are Puck and Judge in the U. S.; for the English, Punch; for the French, Charivari; for the Germans, Fliegende Blatter.

Adapted by the article on Caricatures by C. H. Thurber. in the 1899 edition of the Universal Cyclopedia.