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Leonardo da Vinci (1452—1519)


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A form of art, usually portraiture, in which characteristic features of the subject represented are distorted or exaggerated for comic effect or to make critical comment. The term is sometimes used more broadly to denote other forms of pictorial burlesque or ludicrous representation, such as the grotesque heads of Leonardo. The invention of caricature in the more limited sense is usually credited to Annibale Carracci, who possibly also coined the word caricatura. He defended this type of art as a counterpart to idealization (see ideal): just as the serious artist penetrates to the idea behind appearances, so the caricaturist also brings out the essence of his victim, the way he should look if Nature wholly had her way. Few of Annibale's caricatures survive, but his pioneering role is well attested by early sources: Bellori, for example, wrote that ‘He was not only adroit in making witticisms and jests with words but also with the jocularities of drawings, many of them done by pen. Thus originated the delightful burlesque portraits or caricatures, as those drawings are sometimes called, of figures altered according to their natural defects, making us laugh by their ridiculous likeness.’ Many other leading 17th-century artists were brilliant caricaturists (notably Bernini), but the first artist to earn a substantial part of his living by caricature was probably Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674–1755). Political caricature as we know it today emerged in the late 18th century in Britain, notably in the work of Gillray. It has remained a field in which British artists have excelled, but the greatest of all political caricaturists was a Frenchman, Daumier. Many leading artists of the 19th and 20th centuries have shown a gift for caricature, but mainly as a sideline.

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