Grotesques are bizarre, playful, highly imaginative, make-believe decorative images. They take their name from the Roman wall decorations discovered in 1480 (they were found underground and so thought to have been painted on the walls of grottoes). They quickly became a hugely fashionable form of decoration and once they were adopted at the Vatican by Raphael and his workshop, they spread throughout Italy and north into France, the Netherlands and Germany. As a decorative, ornamental art, the grotesque is charming and witty. But the grotesque is more than mere decoration: it also suggests the dark, the menacing, the monstrous and the frightening. In the Renaissance, the grotesque was described as representing “the dreams of painters”. Come and look at these dreams and see how they turned into nightmares.
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