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A term originally used in the visual arts to describe a type of fanciful wall decoration (painted, carved, or moulded in stucco) characterized by the use of interlinked floral motifs, animal and human figures, masks, etc., often arranged in a vertical, column-like format. Such decoration was inspired by the ornament found in the excavated rooms (popularly called grotte: ‘grottoes’) of certain ancient Roman buildings, notably the Golden House of Nero in Rome, which began to be uncovered at the end of the 15th century. During the 16th century this kind of decoration spread from Italy to most of the countries of Europe. In France the word grotesque was applied as an adjective to literature and even to people fairly early in the 17th century, and later in the same century this meaning spread to England, and the word began to assume its current sense in everyday parlance, suggesting the ridiculous, absurd, monstrous, or abnormal.

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