The word grotesque comes from the same Latin root as "Grotto", which originated from Greek krypte "hidden place", meaning a small cave or hollow. The original meaning was restricted to an extravagant style of Ancient Roman decorative art rediscovered and then copied in Rome at the end of the 15th century. The "caves" were in fact rooms and corridors of the Domus Aurea, the unfinished palace complex started by Nero after the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64, which had become overgrown and buried, until they were broken into again, mostly from above. Spreading from Italian to the other European languages, the term was long used largely interchangeably with arabesque and moresque for types of decorative patterns using curving foliage elements.
Since at least the 18th century (in French and German as well as English) grotesque has come to be used as a general adjective for the strange, fantastic, ugly, incongruous, unpleasant, or disgusting, and thus is often used to describe weird shapes and distorted forms such as Halloween masks. In art, performance, and literature, grotesque, however, may also refer to something that simultaneously invokes in an audience a feeling of uncomfortable bizarreness as well as empathic pity. More specifically, the grotesque forms on Gothic buildings, when not used as drain-spouts, should not be called gargoyles, but rather referred to simply as grotesques, or chimeras.
Rémi Astruc has recently argued that although there is an immense variety of motifs and figures, the three main tropes of the grotesque are doubleness, hybridity and metamorphosis. Beyond the current understanding of the grotesque as an aesthetic category, he demonstrated how the grotesque functions as a fundamental existential experience. Moreover, Astruc identifies the grotesque as a crucial, and potentially universal, anthropological device that the societies have used to conceptualize alterity and change.
Famous quotes containing the word grotesque:
“I envy people who can just look at a sunset. I wonder how you can shoot it. There is nothing more grotesque to me than a vacation.”
—Dustin Hoffman (b. 1937)
“The citys grotesque iron skeletons
Would knock their drunken penthouse heads together
And cake their concrete dirt off in the streets.”
—Robert Frost (18741963)
“The rush to books and universities is like the rush to the public house. People want to drown their realization of the difficulties of living properly in this grotesque contemporary world, they want to forget their own deplorable inefficiency as artists in life.”
—Aldous Huxley (18941963)