As You Like It

Arcimboldo-inspired Winter. Private Collection, New York. Courtesy of Pandora Old Masters, New York (Art History); see also the Exhibition Gallery.

Arcimboldo-inspired composite head known as "Reversible Head with Basket of Fruit" (Art History).

Till Nowak, Salad, A Tribute to H.R. Giger and Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 3D animation, 2006. Siggraph Art Gallery.

In November 2006 Nowak developed Salad, creating digital vegetable models and combining them to become a tribute to the fantastic biomechanical mutants of Hans Rudi Giger and the vegetable portraits of Giuseppe Arcimboldo.

Alien, the 8th Passenger (20th Century Fox, 1979) immortalized the phallic monster conceived by Giger

Giger's unsettling biomechanical creature known as "Necronomicon IV" (from his book Necronomicon, 1977). On grotesqueness in Giger

Salad is a purely educational and non-commercial work. Artist remarks: "I am on a continuous search for ideas which bring existing and known aspects of our world together in a new, twisted and weird combination. The challenge is to find new, but simple ideas. For Salad, I combined the old technique of Giuseppe Arcimboldo's vegetable portraits from the 16th century with the creations of H.R. Giger, at the same time, combining the style of an oil painting with modern digital art and turning around the relation between vegetation and flesh. So it contains at least three separate levels and if you want to go further, you can also read some social message in it, concerning our society as the wolf in sheep's clothing… but this kind of message is usually not where I start when I develop something" (Nowak, interviewed by Area).

With Salad, Nowak adds new meaning to the work of Arcimboldo and Giger. Made of fresh vegetables, Alien becomes edible, and grotesquely, the ferocious monster becomes the one to be devoured. Yet, surprisingly, Salad seems to be ready to eat a piece of meat. Double-edged as it is, the image functions as a visual paradox, an idea corroborated by the vegetable composite which holds the piece of beef like Hamlet does so with the skull while asking, "To be or not to be?" But here the whole matter is to be and not to be. Nowak presents a veggie creature pressumably meditating on the very nature of being a piece of meat... This is superb 21st-century vanitas. Just imagine, Salad pronouncing Pindar's famous lines from Odes, Pythia 8: "We are things of a day. What are we? What are we not? The shadow of a dream is man, no more."*

Nowak's use of the visual grotesque is super-fine. John Ruskin has noted that every grotesque is a combined structure, having two components, one fearful, and another playful. The menacing side of the grotesque prevails in Salad; the playful side of the grotesque dominates I can't smile without you.

Technically speaking, Nowak's creations are impeccable. His admirable use of perspective, texture and atmospherical effects makes the incredible look convincing. Besides, Nowak's works involve inventiveness and originality. With The Shaved Bumblebee, and somehow like Francis Bacon, Nowak undoubtedly opens the valves of sensation and gives a new twist to tradition.

At any rate, following also the path of Bernard of Clairvaux, Novak is a man of great vision and keeps us focusing on beautiful deformities and deformed beauties.

As Bernard asked, "What is the point of [...] those extraordinary deformed beauties and [...] beautiful deformities?"**

Who knows... At any rate, humor is the spice of life.***

* Odes, Pythia 8 (Odes of Pindar).
** Letter to his friend William, Abbot of Thierry, 1135 (Michael Camille, Image on the Edge, Reaktion Books, 1992, p. 61).
*** Humor is an essential skill in order to communicate well with others. As Leslie Rose explains, "Humor is the spice of life. It brings happiness. It decreases pain. It enhances speaking well and listening well. Humor is the shortest distance between two people" (The Spice of Life).

Artwork by Nowak included in Imaginarium with its author's permission.


El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

« El autor, soñando. Su yntento solo es desterrar bulgaridades perjudiciales, y perpetuar con esta obra de caprichos el testimonio sólido de la verdad » (Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, 1797).

Francisco de Goya, "El sueño de la razón produce monstruos," Los Caprichos, nº 43, grabado, 1799: La fantasía abandonada de la razón produce monstruos imposibles: unida con ella es madre de las artes y origen de las maravillas (Prado).

La Racionalidad es la virtud básica del hombre, la fuente de todas sus demás virtudes. El vicio básico del hombre, la fuente de todos sus males, es [...] la suspensión de su consciencia, que no es ceguera, sino renuncia a ver. No ignorancia, sino renuncia a conocer. [...] Lo que va contra la mente va contra la vida (Ayn Rand).


Books: The Grotesque and Its Relatives


Philip Thomson, The Grotesque, 1972

Geoffrey Galt Harpham, On the Grotesque - Strategies of Contradiction in Art and Literature, 1982

Dominique Iehl, Le Grotesque, Presses Universitaires de France, Collection Que sais-je?, 1997

Literature and the Grotesque, ed. Michael J. Meyer, Amsterdam and Atlanta: Rodopi, 1997

Harlod Bloom, The Grotesque, Infobase, 2009. The grotesque, often defined as something fantastically distorted that attracts and repels, is a concept that has various meanings in literature. This new volume contains twenty essays that explore the role of the grotesque in such works as Candide, Frankenstein, King Lear, The Metamorphosis, and many others. Some essays have been written specifically for the series; others are excerpts of important critical analyses from selected books and journals. Introductory essay by Harold Bloom. Original essays and excerpts from published critical analyses that discuss the literary theme of the grotesque considering authors as varied as Aristophanes, Nikolai Gogol, Edgar Allan Poe, and Flannery O'Connor. Index for easy reference.

Myung Choi, Employing the Grotesque As a Communication Strategy - The History of an Artistic Style, Edwin Mellen Pr, 2009
ISBN-10: 0773438440
ISBN-13: 978-0773438446
"...shows how the extravagances and distortions of the Grotesque are hospitable either to agendas of social reformism or to the quite different spirit of postmodernist relativism with its rejection of determinate meanings and values." - David A. Flory. "[The author's] argument is convincing and lends a new voice to an area of study that is often limited in its focus of specific art forms or time periods." Khamla Dhouti Martinez
This work examines the presence of the grotesque in fiction, plastic arts, and films, to interpret the postmodern artistic phenomenon. The study analyzes the evolution of the grotesque and reveals different levels of grotesque imagery and its possible meanings in the works of three authors: Machado de Assis, Camilo Jose Cela, and Alejandra Pizarnik. The study of the grotesque has mostly been developed around literary works and its techniques and images. The vast production of grotesque art in its diverse forms however, was not observed to answer some of the vital questions that arise when we think of the grotesque as a genre. Why does this genre keep returning over time? Is the perception of the grotesque same for all of us? Does liking or disliking the grotesque have an anthropological or psychological explanation? Thus, this study examines the aspects of today's artistic production through the lenses of the grotesque. Contemporary artistic attitudes are different from past ones; presently, individualism and openness seem to be the main characteristics of art. Circumstances like these could have been the motivation for artists to look for new aesthetic elements. The feelings and emotions that arise in these works differ from the works of earlier authors - unlike artists from earlier periods, contemporary artists see the grotesque not as a mere tool, but as a goal.


Richard Huber, Treasury of Fantastic and Mythological Creatures, Dover, 1981
SBN-10: 0486241742
ISBN-13: 978-0486241746
Vast compilation of copyright-free images from many cultures and eras—from prehistoric rock paintings to Max Ernst, from the masks of black Africa to the gargoyles of Notre Dame.

Nikolaus Himmelmann, Realistische Themen in der griechischen Kunst der archaischen und klassischen Zeit, Walter de Gruyter, 1994, pp. 89ff.: Grotesken

Alessandra Zamperini, Ornament and the Grotesque - Fantastical Decoration from Antiquity to Art Nouveau, Thames & Hudson, 2008
ISBN-10: 0500238561
ISBN-13: 978-0500238561
A lavish survey of the grotesque style in European painting and decoration, from Roman times to the late nineteenth century.
In the fifteenth century, the ruins of Nero’s Domus Aurea were discovered in Rome. The first explorers to enter the interior of this spectacular palace complex had the sensation of finding themselves in a series of grottoes, and this is why the fanciful frescoes and floor mosaics discovered there were called “grotesques.”
A fashionable form of ornamentation in ancient Rome, grotesques consist of loosely connected motifs, often incorporating human figures, birds, animals, and monsters, and arranged around medallions filled with painted scenes. Fifteenth-century artists such as Perugino, Signorelli, Filippino Lippi, and Mantegna copied the ancient Roman examples; the most famous use of the style was Raphael’s Loggie in the Vatican Palace, which became immensely famous and influential all over Europe.
This magnificently illustrated book covers the entire history of the grotesque in European art, from its Roman origins through the Renaissance to the late nineteenth century. It illuminates how grotesque decoration was transformed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries into arabesque, chinoiserie, and singeries, and how it continued in the nineteenth century, leading eventually to Art Nouveau. 250 color illustrations.


Alixe Bovey, Monsters and Grotesques in Medieval Manuscripts, Universtity of Toronto Press, 2002
ISBN-10: 0802085121
ISBN-13: 978-0802085122
The margins of medieval manuscripts teem with sirens, satyrs, griffins, unicorns, dragons and other bizarre creatures. Commonplace animals are twisted together in impossible combinations, and human bodies are merged with animal forms in ways that are often both comic and ghastly. Images of these monstrosities pervade art and culture in the Middle Ages, and for medieval people they must have been a tantalizing suggestion of unknown worlds and unthinkable dangers. But what were they doing there? Were they meaningless distractions, or did these strange beasts have other symbolic meanings? Alixe Bovey's thoroughly readable text explains the meaning of these monsters and their place in medieval art.

John Block Friedman, The Monstrous Races in Medieval Art and Thought, Syracuse UP, 2007

Michael Camille, Image on the Edge, The Margins of Medieval Art, Reaktion Books, 1992.
What do they all mean – the lascivious ape, autophagic dragons, pot-bellied heads, harp-playing asses, arse-kissing priests and somersaulting jongleurs to be found protruding from the edges of medieval buildings and in the margins of illuminated manuscripts? Michael Camille explores that riotous realm of marginal art, so often explained away as mere decoration or zany doodles, where resistance to social constraints flourished. Medieval image-makers focused attention on the underside of society, the excluded and the ejected. Peasants, servants, prostitutes and beggars all found their place, along with knights and clerics, engaged in impudent antics in the margins of prayer-books or, as gargoyles, on the outsides of churches. Camille brings us to an understanding of how marginality functioned in medieval culture and shows us just how scandalous, subversive, and amazing the art of the time could be.

Michael Camille, Mirror in Parchment: the Luttrell Psalter and the Making of Medieval England, University of Chicago Press, 1998.
What is the status of visual evidence in history? Can we actually see the past through images? Where are the traces of previous lives deposited? Michael Camille addresses these important questions in Mirror in Parchment, a lively, searching study of one medieval manuscript, its patron, producers, and historical progeny. The richly illuminated Luttrell Psalter was created for the English nobleman Sir Geoffrey Luttrell (1276-1345). Inexpensive mechanical illustration has since disseminated the book's images to a much wider audience; hence the Psalter's representations of manorial life have come to profoundly shape our modern idea of what medieval English people, high and low, looked like at work and at play. Alongside such supposedly truthful representations, the Psalter presents myriad images of fantastic monsters and beasts. These patently false images have largely been disparaged or ignored by modern historians and art historians alike, for they challenge the credibility of those pictures in the Luttrell Psalter that we wish to see as real. In the conviction that medieval images were not generally intended to reflect daily life but rather to shape a new reality, Michael Camille analyzes the Psalter's famous pictures as representations of the world, imagined and real, of its original patron. Addressed are late medieval chivalric ideals, physical sites of power, and the boundaries of Sir Geoffrey's imagined community, wherein agricultural laborers and fabulous monsters play a similar ideological role. The Luttrell Psalter thus emerges as a complex social document of the world as its patron hoped and feared it might be.

Mikhail Mikhaĭlovich Bakhtin, Rabelais and his World, Indiana University Press, 1984. This classic work by the Russian philosopher and literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975) examines popular humor and folk culture in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. One of the essential texts of a theorist who is rapidly becoming a major reference in contemporary thought, Rabelais and His World is essential reading for anyone interested in problems of language and text and in cultural interpretation.

Timothy Hyman and Roger Malbert. Carnivalesque, Hayward Gallery, 2000. Ref. jesters and fools. Carnivalesque explores the history of humor and the grotesque imagination in Western art from the Middle Ages to the present day. It is structured around four themes: the Tumultuous Crowd, the World Turned Upside-down, the Comic Mask, and the Grotesque Body. Illustrations range from medieval woodcuts and misericords to drawings, paintings, and prints by Brueghel, Jacques Callot, the Tiepolos, James Gillray, and Francisco Goya. Popular imagery from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is set alongside satirical prints by Daumier, James Ensor, and Max Beckmann. Recent and contemporary works include sculpture by Louise Bourgeois and Paul McCarthy, paintings by Paula Rego and Red Grooms, and video installations by Marisa Carnesky and Leigh Bowery.

Mike Harding, A Little Book of the Green Man, Aurum Press, 1998
ISBN-10: 1854105639
ISBN-13: 978-1854105639
This series of beautifully produced small books is intended to be an introduction to the often hidden worlds that lie within the great churches and cathedrals of the British Isles, Ireland, and Europe. Mike Harding presents a selection of the most fascinating manifestations of green men, gargoyles, misericords, and stained glass, explaining the background and meaning behind each subject in text and illustrations.

Lora S. Irish, Chris Pye, Shawn Cipa, Wood Spirits and Green Men - A Design Sourcebook for Woodcarvers and Other Artists, Fox Chapel Publishing, 2005.
A recent term for a loose archetype—usually the head of a man within nature or a man as part of nature—the green man can be documented as early as A.D. 30 as a Roman architectural accent. The patterns show the green man in his wide range of emotions—happy, sad, miserable, or mischievous—with descriptions of how the wood spirit is anchored to nature not by the imagery of leaves and foliage but by the media on which he is depicted.

A.G. Smith, Gargoyles and Medieval Monsters, New York: Dover, 1998.

Mike Harding, A Little Book of Gargoyles, Aurum Press, illustrated ed., 1998
ISBN-10: 1854105612
ISBN-13: 978-1854105615
Gargoyles that grin and leer down from roofs and towers of medieval churches have stood for centuries warding off evil. They reached their flowering in the Middle Ages yet their story goes far beyond that time to the very beginnings of art, when man created demons to scare away demons. This book depicts the many fearsome faces of these monstrosities throughout history.

Shawn Cipa, Carving Gargoyles, Grotesques, and Other Creatures of Myth, Fox Chapel Publishing, 2009.
Fascinating information on the symbolism, legend, and lore of each spirited creature.

Gargoyles and Grotesques (CD Rom & Book), ed. A. Raguenet, Dover, 2010
ISBN-10: 0486470164
ISBN-13: 978-0486470160
Enter a mysterious world of fantasy, beauty, and horror with this extraordinary collection of architectural details from centuries-old structures such as the Louvre, Notre Dame, and historic buildings throughout Europe. Hundreds of images depict gargoyles, masks, busts, cartouches, fountains, pedestals, and more. The CD-ROM includes all images from the book.

Janetta Rebold Benton, Holy Terrors - Gargoyles on Medieval Buildings, Abbeville, 1997
ISBN 0789201828, 9780789201829
The true gargoyle is a waterspout, an architectural necessity that medieval artisans transformed into functional fantasies. The informative introduction to Holy Terrors explains everything that is known or conjectured about the history, the construction, the purposes, and the mysterious meanings of these often rude and rowdy characters. The three chapters that follow are devoted to the gargoyles themselves, imaginatively carved of stone in the form of people, real animals, and fantastic beasts. In clear, lively language, Janetta Rebold Benton puts these personality-filled sculptures into the context of medieval life and art and captures their quirky diversity in her engaging color photographs. Concluding the book is an invaluable guide to gargoyle sites throughout western Europe, as well as suggestions for further reading.

Anetta Rebold Benton, Medieval Mischief - Wit and Humour in the Art of the Middle Ages, Sutton, 2004
The art of the medieval era was primarily executed in the service of the Church and is often perceived as serious in message. In this lavishly illustrated book, Janetta Rebold Benton overturns this notion, revealing the amusing, unexpected, and even risque elements that coloured medieval art and architecture.
From the carving of a poacher being cooked on a spit by a rabbit to a spoon painted with a fox preaching to geese; from the sculpture of a man squashed under the weight of a pillar to a tapestry showing a unicorn sticking out its tongue, the art and architecture of the Middle Ages teem with humour. Stonemasons and woodcarvers were able to leave their very personal mark and find expression for their native wit in the huge buildings of medieval Europe. Their mischief could be artfully camouflaged among pious and noble images, and there was clearly enjoyment in poking fun at the establishment. Yet the purpose of these clever images was unlikely to be limited to amusement. For a largely illiterate population, visual messages were far more potent than the written word. The Church was certainly aware of this, using art such as the carving on Atun Cathedral of an angel and a devil weighing souls - and both cheating - to instruct their congregation.
Janetta Rebold Benton offers rich and revealing insights into the medieval mentality, sense of humour and approach to life, bringing together some of the most delightful examples of medieval visual humour in a collection that will continue to amuse and entertain today.

Michael Camille, The Gargoyles of Notre-Dame - Medievalism and the Monsters of Modernity, Chicago: University of Chicago, 2009.
Most of the seven million people who visit the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris each year probably do not realize that the legendary gargoyles adorning this medieval masterpiece were not constructed until the nineteenth century. The first comprehensive history of these world-famous monsters, The Gargoyles of Notre-Dame argues that they transformed the iconic thirteenth-century cathedral into a modern monument.
Michael Camille begins his long-awaited study by recounting architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc’s ambitious restoration of the structure from 1843 to 1864, when the gargoyles were designed, sculpted by the little-known Victor Pyanet, and installed. These gargoyles, Camille contends, were not mere avatars of the Middle Ages, but rather fresh creations—symbolizing an imagined past—whose modernity lay precisely in their nostalgia. He goes on to map the critical reception and many-layered afterlives of these chimeras, notably in the works of such artists and writers as Charles Méryon, Victor Hugo, and photographer Henri Le Secq. Tracing their eventual evolution into icons of high kitsch, Camille ultimately locates the gargoyles’ place in the twentieth-century imagination, exploring interpretations by everyone from Winslow Homer to the Walt Disney Company.
Lavishly illustrated with more than three hundred images of its monumental yet whimsical subjects, The Gargoyles of Notre-Dame is a must-read for historians of art and architecture and anyone whose imagination has been sparked by the lovable monsters gazing out over Paris from one of the world’s most renowned vantage points.

Bettina Bildhauer, Robert Mills. The Monstrous Middle Ages, University of Toronto Press, 2003. The figure of the monster in medieval culture functions as a vehicle for a range of intellectual and spiritual inquiries, from questions of language and representation to issues of moral, theological, and cultural value. Monstrosity is bound up with questions of body image and deformity, nature and knowledge, hybridity and horror. To explore a culture's attitudes to the monstrous is to comprehend one of its most important symbolic tools. The Monstrous Middle Ages looks at both the representation of literal monsters and the consumption and exploitation of monstrous metaphors in a wide variety of high and late-medieval cultural productions, from travel writings and mystical texts to sermons, manuscript illuminations and maps. Individual essays explore the ways in which monstrosity shaped the construction of gender and sexual identity, religious symbolism, and social prejudice in the Middle Ages. Reading the Middle Ages through its monsters provides an opportunity to view medieval culture from fresh perspectives. The Monstrous Middle Ages will be essential reading for anyone interested in the concept of monstrosity and its significance for both medieval cultural production and contemporary critical practice.

David Williams, Deformed Discourse: The Function of the Monster in Mediaeval Thought and Literature, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1999.

Debra Higgs Strickland, Saracens, Demons, and Jews. Making Monsters in Medieval Art, Princeton UP, 2003.
During the crusades, "Ethiopians," Jews, Muslims, and Mongols were branded enemies of the Christian majority. Illustrated with strikingly imaginative and still disturbing images, this book reveals the outrageously pejorative ways these rejected social groups were represented--often as monsters, demons, or freaks of nature. Such monstrous images of non-Christians were not rare displays but a routine aspect of medieval public and private life. These images, which reached a broad and socially varied audience across western Europe, appeared in virtually all artistic media, including illuminated manuscripts, stained glass, sculpture, metalwork, and tapestry.Debra Higgs Strickland introduces and decodes images of the "monstrous races," from demonlike Jews and man-eating Tartars to Saracens with dog heads or animal bodies. Strickland traces the origins of the negative pictorial code used to portray monsters, demons, and non-Christian peoples to pseudoscientific theories of astrology, climate, and physiognomy, some dating back to classical times. She also considers the code in light of contemporary Christian eschatological beliefs and concepts of monstrosity and rejection.This is the first study to situate representations of the enemies of medieval Christendom within the broader cultural context of literature, theology, and politics. It is also the first to explore the elements of that imagery as a code and to elucidate the artistic means by which boundaries were effectively blurred between imaginary monsters and rejected social groups.


Dorothea Scholl, Von den Grottesken zum Grotesken, die Konstituierung einer Poetik des Grotesken in der italienischen Renaissance, LIT Verlag Münster, 2004.

André Chastel, La grottesque, Le Promeneur, 1988. Brillante síntesis de la historia de uno de los sistemas decorativos más importantes del arte occidental: el grutesco. Se estudia su descubrimiento en la Roma de principios del siglo XVI, en los frescos que cubrían los muros de la Domus Aurea de Nerón, y su inmediata fortuna en el mundo renacentista, así como su posterior influjo en determinadas manifestaciones del Rococó e incluso en el arte moderno.
ISBN-10: 2876530651
ISBN-13: 978-2876530652

Philippe Morel, Les Grotesques - Les figures de l'imaginaire dans la peinture italienne de la fin de la Renaissance, Flammarion, 2001.
ISBN-10: 2080800248
ISBN-13: 978-2080800244
Le mot grotesque devient au XVIIe siècle un qualificatif essentiellement négatif, synonyme de bizarre, de ridicule ou d'extravagant. Mais il fut d'abord employé dès le début du siècle précédent pour désigner des peintures murales largement inspirées des fresques et des reliefs antiques, auxquels s'ajoutaient parfois des réminiscences des marginalia gothiques. Ce genre décoratif connut un immense succès tout au long du XVIe siècle, d'abord en Italie, puis un peu partout en Europe, en s'étendant à la sculpture, à la gravure et à bien d'autres techniques.
Partant de motifs et de schémas essentiellement antiquisants, le langage des grotesques s'est progressivement détaché de cette référence figurative en s'inspirant de diverses matrices culturelles contemporaines. C'est donc l'analyse de ces voisinages déterminants et de ces relations constitutives qui permet de rendre compte du fonctionnement multiple de ce langage apparemment incohérent, et d'en dégager la spécificité historique et la densité culturelle : le rapport à la tradition hiéroglyphique, au collectionnisme éclectique et à l'esthétique de l'abondance, la littérature burlesque, la logique épistémique des hybrides ou la construction rhétorique et paradoxale des compositions apportent autant d'éclairages décisifs sur les nombreux décors pris en considération.
Les grotesques apparaissent de la sorte comme une expression tout à fait emblématique de la culture maniériste et c'est à ce titre qu'elles sont devenues la cible privilégiée des critiques post-tridentines.

Werner Kriegeskorte, Arcimboldo, Taschen, 2000. Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593) began his career as an artist in the glass workshops of the Milan Cathedral, where he designed glass windows depicting scenes from the lives of the saints. His talent soon caught the eye of 16th-century rulers, and he moved on to the imperial courts of Ferdinand I, Maximilian II, and Rudolf II in Prague, where he created the scenes for his Seasons. In Arcimboldo's allegorical paintings, Spring appears as a young man composed entirely of flowers, Summer as a composition of fruits, Autumn as a head made of grapes, and Winter as a gnarled old man twined with ivy.

Curious and Fantastic Creatures, Dover, 1995. Les songes drolatiques de Pantagruel, Paris: Richard Breton, 1565 (facsimil from the Librarie Tross, Paris).
ISBN-10: 0486284638
ISBN-13: 978-0486284637

Alan W. Bates, Emblematic Monsters, Unnatural Conceptions and Deformed Births in Early Modern Europe, Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2005.

Ambroise Paré, On Monsters and Marvels (De monstres et prodiges), tr. Janis L. Pallister, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1995.
Ambroise Paré, born in France around 1510, was chief surgeon to both Charles IX and Henri III. In one of the first attempts to explain birth defects, Paré produced On Monsters and Marvels,an illustrated encyclopedia of curiosities, of monstrous human and animal births, bizarre beasts, and natural phenomena. Janice Pallister's acclaimed English translation offers a glimpse of the natural world as seen by an extraordinary Renaissance natural philosopher. Ref. Abnormalities

Shun-Liang Chao, Rethinking the Concept of the Grotesque - Crashaw, Baudelaire, Magritte, Legenda (Studies in Comparative Literature), 2010
ISBN-10: 1906540829
ISBN-13: 978-1906540821
How are we to define what is grotesque, in art or literature? Since the Renaissance the term has been used for anything from the fantastic to the monstrous, and been associated with many artistic genres, from the Gothic to the danse macabre. Shun-Liang Chao's new study adopts a rigorous approach by establishing contradictory physicality and the notion of metaphor as two keys to the construction of a clear identity of the grotesque. With this approach, Chao explores the imagery of Richard Crashaw, Charles Baudelaire, and Rene Magritte as individual exemplars of the grotesque in the Baroque, Romantic, and Surrealist ages, in order to suggest a lineage of this curious aesthetic and to cast light on the functions of the visual and of the verbal in evoking it.


Lee Byron Jennings, The Ludicrous Demon: Aspects of the Grotesque in German Post-Romantic Prose, University of California Press, 1963.

Michael Hollington, Dickens and the Grotesque, Taylor & Francis, 1984.

Virginia E. Swain, Grotesque Figures - Baudelaire, Rousseau, and the Aesthetics of Modernity, JHU Press, 2004. Charles Baudelaire is usually read as a paradigmatically modern poet, whose work ushered in a new era of French literature. But the common emphasis on his use of new forms and styles overlooks the complex role of the past in his work. In Grotesque Figures, Virginia E. Swain explores how the specter of the eighteenth century made itself felt in Baudelaire's modern poetry in the pervasive textual and figural presence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Not only do Rousseau's ideas inform Baudelaire's theory of the grotesque, but Rousseau makes numerous appearances in Baudelaire's poetry as a caricature or type representing the hold of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution over Baudelaire and his contemporaries. As a character in "Le Poème du hashisch" and the Petits Poèmes en prose, "Rousseau" gives the grotesque a human form. Swain's literary, cultural, and historical analysis deepens our understanding of Baudelaire and of nineteenth-century aesthetics by relating Baudelaire's poetic theory and practice to Enlightenment debates about allegory and the grotesque in the arts. Offering a novel reading of Baudelaire's ambivalent engagement with the eighteenth-century, Grotesque Figures examines nineteenth-century ideological debates over French identity, Rousseau's political and artistic legacy, the aesthetic and political significance of the rococo, and the presence of the grotesque in the modern.

Pamela Kort, Comic Grotesque - Wit And Mockery In German Art, 1870-1940, Prestel, 2004.
ISBN-10: 3791331957
ISBN-13: 978-3791331959
Filled with irreverent wit, comical elements, and absurdist humor, the comic-grotesque has fascinated artists since ancient times. However, it was not until the late nineteenth century that it reemerged as a novel modernist method. The comic-grotesque can best be characterized by what it does to boundaries, transgressing, merging, overflowing and collapsing them. This volume, which accompanies an exhibition at Neue Galerie New York, begins with Arnold Bocklin's comic-grotesque pictorial compositions. It brings together a dazzling array of artists--including Paul Klee, Max Klinger, Alfred Kubin, Emil Nolde, and Max Ernst--who, inspired by his example, forged a unique aesthetic with enormous consequences for modern German art. Essays consider the connection between the visual arts and the rise of cabaret culture and satirical journals. In addition, the authors examine the legacy of the comic-grotesque in relationship to the denunciation of Bocklin's art around 1905 and its eventual reemergence around 1919 in the work of the Dadaists. With over 100 full-color plates and dozens of black-and-white illustrations, this striking collection traces the evolution of a largely ignored, but immensely influential movement in modern art.
From Publishers Weekly. A skeleton urinates in a river, demons torment sobbing broken men, and the devil mates with Salome to infect the Pope with syphilis in this history of the mania for the bizarre in German visual art, performance and literature. The book, produced in conjunction with an exhibition at the Neue Galerie in New York, begins with curator Kort's essay on the symbolist painter Arnold Bocklin, who produced lushly painted scenes of mythic figures and monsters at play. As the book goes on, the genres become less traditional, encompassing the fields of photography, collage and even puppetry. In addition, the images themselves become more abstract, as lurid mélanges of male, female and animal bodies form comic nightmares. Certainly, the horror of two world wars and the rise of fascism had an influence on the explosion of art produced in the comic grotesque mode in Germany, particularly in the Expressionist, Dada and Surrealist schools. However, as Frances S. Connelly and Robert Storr point out in this book's essays, the comic grotesque style has been something of a constant in Western Art, and is well represented today by artists like Cindy Sherman. The degree to which the works on display in this handsome collection still disquiet, shock and move us is a testament not only to the imagination of the artists who produced them, but also to the ongoing depravities of war and violence. © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

Victorian Culture and the Idea of the Grotesque, ed. Colin Trodd et al., Ashgate Publishing, 1999.
ISBN-10: 1859283802
ISBN-13: 978-1859283806
Monstrous, absurd, humorous, demotic and contradictory: the Grotesque is a protean force working across different areas of Victorian life. This text examines a wide range of sources and materials in order to provide new readings of an important force that oscillates between "style" and "concept". These essays provide original readings of key articulations of the Grotesque: the literary culture of Ruskin, Browning and Dickens, where it is a sign of the eruptions, intensities, confusions and disturbed vitality of modern cultural experience; the scientific revolution associated with Darwin, where it generates speculation about biological forces, bodily energies, and mutations in nature; and the social and historical literature of Carlyle, where it hovers on the edge of visibility, at once a transgression of the nature of industrial society and its purest manifestation.

John R. Clark, The modern satiric grotesque and its traditions, 1991

Agatha Krzychylkiewicz, The Grotesque in the Works of Bruno Jasieński, Peter Lang, 2006.
This book is the first critical attempt made in any language to re-examine the entire oeuvre of Bruno Jasieński (1901-1938). It takes into account the writer's lifelong concerns but places them in the context of the universal value of his writing, generated by his modernist passions and his fascination with the grotesque - an artistic device that was consonant with his need to portray life in all its complexities. The author relies on the grotesque as an element that unifies Jasieński's futuristic poetry with his prose. Especially important in this regard is the close reading of Jasieński's satiric grotesques written in the Soviet Union. The author does not avoid the intricacies and difficult questions of Jasieński's ideological commitment but focuses mainly on the consequences that the highly ambivalent and ambiguous nature of the grotesque has on the interpretation of his work. ISBN 3039112171, 9783039112173

Beatriz Fernández Ruiz, De Rabelais a Dalí, La imagen grotesca del cuerpo, Universitat de València, 2004. Lo grotesco es una categoría estética que no se define con claridad hasta el siglo XIX, pro cuya presencia festiva y transgresora se puede rastrear en la historia del arte desde muchos siglos atrás. La historia de la palabra grotesco empieza en el Renacimiento italiano, con el descubrimiento de la antigua pintura decorativa romana, que jugaba con seres híbridos y sugería espacios ingrávidos. Una pintura "atrevida y ridícula" que será recreada muchas veces a partir del siglo XVI. Este libre juego con la figura humana es comparable a la distorsión del lenguaje verbal en la literatura de Rabelais, a la esquematización cómica de los personajes en el teatro de la commedia dell'arte, y también a la poderosa tradición popular que recorre toda la Edad Media: el carnaval, con su reivindicación festiva de un mundo al revés, y el sueño utópico de la libertad, la igualdad y la abundancia. Este libro se adentra en diversas tradiciones cómicas y encuentra en ellas unas mismas necesidades de juego y esperanza: el descrédito de la seriedad del mundo oficial, la reivindicación de las pasiones corporales, la superación del miedo a través de la risa. Además subraya la herencia de lo grotesco en la obra juvenil de Dalí, y destaca su vitalidad y vigencia transgresoras en la década de los noventa, con artistas como Franz West, Paul Mc Carthy o Louise Bourgeois.

Frances S. Connelly, Modern Art and the Grotesque, Cambridge UP, 2009. Connelly examines how the concept of the "grotesque" has influenced the history, practice, and theory of art in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The grotesque has been adopted by a succession of artists as a way to push beyond established boundaries; explore alternate modes of experience and expression; and challenge the status quo. Examining specific images by a range of artists, such as Ingres, Gauguin, H_ch, de Kooning, Polke, and Mona Hatoum, these essays encompass a variety of media--including medical illustration, paintings, prints, photography, multimedia installations, and film. ISBN 0521115760, 9780521115766

Robert Storr, Disparities & Deformations - Our Grotesque, New Mexico: SITE Santa Fe, 2004.
ISBN-10: 0970077483
ISBN-13: 978-0970077486
Historically speaking, "grotesque" first referred to the bizarre motifs discovered in Nero's palaces in the 15th century--strange hybridities of plant, animal, and human forms. Such whimsies became fodder for Renaissance masters and later for Baroque, Rococo, Romantic, modern, and postmodern artists. For the Site Sante Fe Fifth International Biennial Exhibition, invited curator Robert Storr examines contemporary embodiments of the grotesque tradition in art, a spirit which unites formal opposites: emotional and intellectual conflicts, beauty and ugliness, delight and delirium, tragedy and comedy. Producing an art of revelatory impurities that encompasses both the wondrous and the disturbing, the grotesque has informed many of the key postmodern movements in art and culture. The Biennial brings together internationally known artists working in a wide range of media, subject matter, and conceptual and aesthetic approaches, including Louise Bourgeois, Bruce Conner, Inka Essenhigh, Tom Friedman, Ellen Gallagher, Robert Gober, Douglas Gordon, Paul McCarthy, Sigmar Polke, Susan Rothenberg, Jenny Saville, Cindy Sherman, and Kara Walker.

Curatorial statement, by Robert Storr. The term "grotesque" is commonly used as a pejorative epithet—"How grotesque!" typically meaning how obscene, how gruesome, or how ridiculous. The word is not, however, meant in this way here. Or perhaps it would be better to say, it is not meant only in this way—some of the greatest grotesques are none of those things and some are those things and more.
Historically speaking, "grotesque," which derives from the Italian word "grotto," first referred to the strange motifs discovered when the ruins of Nero’s palaces were unearthed in the 15th century, and their heavily ornamented interiors came to light. Unlike their classical counterparts, these late Roman ornaments were characterized by surprising hybridities—bizarre fusions of plant, animal, and human forms with completely invented filigree added on. Such antique whimsies became an inspiration to Renaissance masters like Raphael and Dürer. Subsequently, the grotesque intermittently preoccupied and gave license to artists during the Baroque, Rococo, Romantic, modern, and postmodern periods. Over the centuries, the grotesque spirit has evolved into parallel traditions of widely various permutations, some figurative and others abstract, some fanciful and others nightmarish, some comic and others harrowing, some exquisite and others unapologetically vulgar.
If there is any unifying principle or spirit to the work that can be fairly as well as favorably described as "grotesque," it is that of contradiction. Grotesques body forth the world’s ambiguities and people’s ambivalences in ways that make them impossible to ignore or deny. They signal the point at which logical and emotional certainties waver, taste loses it bearings, and familiar realities warp into disorienting paradoxes. It is, in the words of the nineteenth century writer Jean Paul, a state of "soul dizziness."
If ever there was a moment when the factors that stimulate the grotesque dimensions of the imagination were in flux, this is one of them. The purpose of this exhibition, then, is to bring together a diverse group of contemporary works that in one way or another respond and give new substance to those dynamics and this broad sensibility. An international group of artists of different generations and approaches, coming from various cultural contexts and working in various mediums, will be asked to participate. In gathering this group of artists around the exhibition's theme, the aim is neither to historicize their art nor force it into a fixed or homogenous category but rather to highlight the elements of inherent, usually critical, contradiction within distinct aesthetic practices while showing that the grotesque—a quality seemingly encapsulated by one word—has many reasons for being and a nearly infinite number of guises.


Jan Bondeson, A cabinet of medical curiosities, London and New York: I.B.Tauris, 1997. ISBN 1860642284, 9781860642289.

Jan Bondeson, The Two-headed Boy, and Other Medical Marvels, Cornell University Press, 2004.
To this day, human fascination with so-called freaks, those unexplainable "jokes of nature," as Bondeson calls them, has not abated. Not only supermarket tabloids but, according to the author, even the Internet is "a mine of misinformation and bigoted nonsense on these matters." Here is Bondeson once again (after Cabinet of Medical Curiosities) aiming to historicize this fascination. Unlike his previous study, Bondeson's new work attempts to offer more than a collection of marvels. He roams with intriguing results, from literary and cultural history to medical science and back again, focusing on the development of a scientific approach to these cases. As Bondeson looks at the cases of the so-called "hog-faced women," "dog-faced boys," and "people with horns" throughout history, he shows an acute sensitivity to the nuances of historical interpretation and for the humanity of those whose lives and conditions he chronicles. The story of the medieval woman who supposedly gave birth to 365 children in one day is a gem of historical reasoning and exposition. The book makes an important contribution to the histories of both science and popular culture. In a companion volume to his A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities (1997), physician Bondeson explores "the history of teratology, the science of monstrous births." Comprised of a dozen essays related by theme and structure, Bondeson's study ranges far in search of the bizarre and even miraculous varieties of human appearance.

Leslie A. Fiedler, Freaks: Myths and Images of the Secret Self, Anchor Books, 1993. From two-headed men and dwarfs to Siamese twins, the phenomenon of the freak has fascinated people for centuries. In this classic study of the very nature of that fascination, the renowned literary and cultural critic Fiedler offers an in-depth examination of man's views of the freak from classical times to present.

Joe Nickell, Secrets of the sideshows, University Press of Kentucky, 2005. The carnival sideshows of the past have left behind a fascinating legacy of mystery and intrigue. The secrets behind such daring feats as fire-eating and sword swallowing and bizarre exhibitions of human oddities as "Alligator Boys" and "Gorilla Girls" still remain, only grudgingly if ever given up by performers and carnival professionals. Working alongside the performers, Joe Nickell blows the lid off these mysteries of the midway. The author reveals the structure of the shows, specific methods behind the performances, and the showmen's tactics for recruiting performers and attracting crowds. He also traces the history of such spectacles, from ancient Egyptian magic and street fairs to the golden age of P.T. Barnum's sideshows. With revealing insight into the personal lives of the men and women billed as freaks, Nickell unfolds the captivating story of the midway show.

Robert Bogdan, Freak show - presenting human oddities for amusement and profit, University of Chicago Press, 1990. From 1840 until 1940, freak shows by the hundreds crisscrossed the United States, from the smallest towns to the largest cities, exhibiting their casts of dwarfs, giants, Siamese twins, bearded ladies, savages, snake charmers, fire eaters, and other oddities. By today's standards such displays would be considered cruel and exploitative—the pornography of disability. Yet for one hundred years the freak show was widely accepted as one of America's most popular forms of entertainment.
Robert Bogdan's fascinating social history brings to life the world of the freak show and explores the culture that nurtured and, later, abandoned it. In uncovering this neglected chapter of show business, he describes in detail the flimflam artistry behind the shows, the promoters and the audiences, and the gradual evolution of public opinion from awe to embarrassment. Freaks were not born, Bogdan reveals; they were manufactured by the amusement world, usually with the active participation of the freaks themselves. Many of the "human curiosities" found fame and fortune, becoming the celebrities of their time, until the ascent of professional medicine transformed them from marvels into pathological specimans.

Daniel P. Mannix, Freaks - We Who Are Not As Others, Juno Books, 1999. Originally printed in a small edition and withdrawn after one month by the publisher, Pocket Books, "Freaks" -- out of print for nearly 20 years -- was brought back to eyepopping life, with many new photos, by the renowned marginal culture press RE/Search. Now Juno Books, morphed from the now-defunct RE/Search, has brought "Freaks" back into the mainstream publishing fold with panache.In "Freaks", meet the strangest people who ever lived, and read about: the notorious love affairs of midgets-- the dwarf clown's wife whose feet grew directly from her body-- the famous pinhead who inspired Verdi's Rigoletto-- the 34-inch-tall midget happily married to his 264 lbs. wife-- the human torso who could sew, crochet, and type and other bizarre accounts of normal humans turned into freaks -- either voluntarily or by evil design!

Nadja Durbach, Spectacle of deformity - freak shows and modern British culture, University of California Press, 2009. In 1847, during the great age of the freak show, the British periodical Punch bemoaned the public's "prevailing taste for deformity." This vividly detailed work argues that far from being purely exploitative, displays of anomalous bodies served a deeper social purpose as they generated popular and scientific debates over the meanings attached to bodily difference. Nadja Durbach examines freaks both well-known and obscure including the Elephant Man; "Lalloo, the Double-Bodied Hindoo Boy," a set of conjoined twins advertised as half male, half female; Krao, a seven-year-old hairy Laotian girl who was marketed as Darwin's "missing link"; the "Last of the Mysterious Aztecs" and African "Cannibal Kings," who were often merely Irishmen in blackface. Upending our tendency to read late twentieth-century conceptions of disability onto the bodies of freak show performers, Durbach shows that these spectacles helped to articulate the cultural meanings invested in otherness--and thus clarified what it meant to be British-at a key moment in the making of modern and imperial ideologies and identities.

Rachel Adams, Sideshow U.S.A - freaks and the American cultural imagination, University of Chicago Press, 2001. A staple of American popular culture during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the freak show seemed to vanish after the Second World War. But as Rachel Adams reveals in Sideshow U.S.A., images of the freak show, with its combination of the grotesque, the horrific, and the amusing, stubbornly reappeared in literature and the arts. Freak shows, she contends, have survived because of their capacity for reinvention. Empty of any inherent meaning, the freak's body becomes a stage for playing out some of the twentieth century's most pressing social and political concerns, from debates about race, empire, and immigration, to anxiety about gender, and controversies over taste and public standards of decency. Sideshow U.S.A. begins by revisiting the terror and fascination the original freak shows provided for their audiences, as well as exploring the motivations of those who sought fame and profit in the business of human exhibition. With this history in mind, Adams turns from live entertainment to more mediated forms of cultural expression: the films of Tod Browning, the photography of Diane Arbus, the criticism of Leslie Fiedler, and the fiction Carson McCullers, Toni Morrison, and Katherine Dunn. Taken up in these works of art and literature, the freak serves as a metaphor for fundamental questions about self and other, identity and difference, and provides a window onto a once vital form of popular culture. Adams's study concludes with a revealing look at the revival of the freak show as live performance in the late 1980s and the 1990s. Celebrated by some, the freak show's recent return is less welcome to those who have traditionally been its victims. At the beginning of a new century, Adams sees it as a form of living history, a testament to the vibrancy and inventiveness of American popular culture, as well as its capacity for cruelty and injustice. "Because of its subject matter, this interesting and complex study is provocative, as well as thought-provoking."--Virginia Quarterly Review.

Rosemarie Garland Thomson, Freakery - Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body, NYU Press, 1996. The release of Freakery is as much a comment on modern academia as it is an intriguing exploration of the enduring fascination with the construction and presentation of those who have been coarsely categorized as 'freaks,' 'curiosities', prodigies' and 'monstrosities.'-Ethnologies Giants. Midgets. Tribal non-Westerners. The very fat. The very thin. Hermaphrodites. Conjoined twins. The disabled. The very hirsute. In American history, all have shared the platform equally, as freaks, human oddities, their only commonality their assigned role of anomalous other to the gathered throngs. For the price of a ticket, freak shows offered spectators an icon of bodily otherness whose difference from them secured their own membership in a common American identity--by comparison ordinary, tractable, normal. Rosemarie Thomson's groundbreaking anthology probes America's disposition toward the visually different. The book's essays fall into four main categories: historical explorations of American freak shows in the era of P.T. Barnum; the articulation of the freak in literary and textual discourses; contemporary relocations of freak shows; and theoretical analyses of freak culture. Essays address such diverse topics as American colonialism and public presentations of natives; laughing gas demonstrations in the 1840's; Shirley Temple and Tom Thumb; Todd Browning's landmark movie Freaks; bodybuilders as postmodern freaks; freaks in Star Trek; Michael Jackson's identification with the Elephant Man; and the modern talk show as a reconfiguration of the freak show. In her introduction, Thomson traces the freak show from antiquity to the modern period and explores the constitutive, political, and textual properties of such exhibits. Freakeryis a fresh, insightful exploration of a heretofore neglected aspect of American mass culture.

Bernd Herzogenrath, The Cinema of Tod Browning: Essays of the Macabre and Grotesque, McFarland, 2008
ISBN-10: 0786434473
ISBN-13: 978-0786434473
As a director, actor, writer and producer, Tod Browning was one of the most dynamic Hollywood figures during the birth of commercial cinema. Known for his fantastic collaborations with Lon Chaney in numerous silents, and for directing the horror classic Dracula and the still-controversial Freaks, Browning has been called "the Edgar Allan Poe of the cinema." Despite not entering the profession until he began acting in his early thirties, he went on to helm more than 60 films in a 25-year career. His work continues to influence directors such as David Lynch, John Waters, and Alejandro Jodorowsky.
These essays critically explore such topics as the connection between Browning, Poe and Kant; Browning's cinematic techniques; disability; masochism; sound and suspense; duality; parenthood; narrative and cinematic trickery; George Melford; surrealism; and the occult. A Browning filmography is included.


Stephen H. Webb, Blessed Excess - Religion and the Hyperbolic Imagination, Suny Press, 1993

James Luther Adams, Wilson Yates, and Robert Penn Warren, The Grotesque in Art and Literature - Theological Reflections, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997. ISBN 0802842674, 9780802842671

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