On the Grotesque

Basil Wolverton, Heap, 1955
© The Wolverton Estate. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York

The grotesque got its name by mistake. When, one day in fifteenth-century Rome, a young man fell into a hole in a hillside, he assumed he’d discovered a Roman grotto. He fetched a lantern and found wild frescoes over the grotto’s walls: half-human, half animal figures, with legs and arms transforming into curling vines or ornamental volutes. In fact, he had stumbled upon Nero’s buried Villa Aurea, the raised floor level giving the rooms a grotto-like appearance. Nevertheless, the term “grotteschi” stuck as a label for this newly discovered style that radically dissented from the classical restraint to which the Renaissance had hitherto adhered. Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements