Montaigne: Boscage or Crotesco

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne considers Horace's approach when offering his own, albeit brief, commentary on the grotesque. Significantly, he does so while likewise crossing the border between art and literature.[1]

He begins his essay "Of Friendship" like this:

CONSIDERING the proceeding of a Painters worke I have, a desire hath possessed mee to imitate him: He maketh choice of the most convenient place and middle of everie wall, there to place a picture, laboured with all his skill and sufficiencie; and all void places about it he filleth up with antike Boscage [foliated ornament] or Crotesko [grotesque] works; which are fantasticall pictures, having no grace, but in the variety and strangenesse of them.[2]

After duly admiring the grotesques, he compares them to his own writings:

And what are these my compositions in truth, other than antike workes, and monstrous bodies, patched and hudled up together of divers members, without any certaine or well ordered figure, having neither order, dependencie, or proportion, but casuall and framed by chance? [3]

Montaigne then quotes Horace's line about the woman with a fish tail:

"Definit is piscem mulier formosa supernè."[4]

Boscage or Crotesco? Both.

A woman faire for parts superior
Ends in a fish for parts inferior.[5]

Lucas Hugensz van Leyden (1489-1533)
Ornamental Panel with Grotesques, 1528
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Ancient hybrid motif
Roman mosaic from Carthage, Tunisia
Bardo Museum, Tunis

1. Gwyneth of Perth. Images in this post are not hers, but mine.
2. Montaigne, Literary and Philosophical Essays: "Of Friendship", lines 1-6 (The Harvard Classics, 1909–14; Bartleby).
3. Ibid., lines 6-10.
4. Ibid., line 11; Horace, Ars Poetica, 4.
5. Ibid., line 12.

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