The Macclesfield Psalter

Psalters—books containing the Psalms from the Bible, usually decorated and illustrated—were common in the Middle Ages. They were intended for the private use of a family; a wealthy one, since the production of an illuminated psalter was expensive and time-consuming.

The Macclesfie​ld Psalter
England, East Anglia, c. 1330
Initial C from Psalm 97(Cantate Domino canticum novum;
Sing unto the Lord a new canticle).
The Fitzwillia​m Museum, Cambridge
MS 1–2005, fol. 139v, detail

Sumptuous and exuberant, The Macclesfield Psalter is 252 small pages of densely illustrated text. Real discoveries of treasures are exceptionally rare. The Macclesfield Psalter is a jewel of manuscript painting. Its pages offer a view of the medieval world and the beliefs, prejudices, follies, aspirations and sentiments of its people. Doctors, priests, minstrels, mummers, farmers, dancers, tricksters and beggars mingle in the margins as they would have done on the streets of a busy town. A delight to the eye and a challenge to the intellect. The pictor shows a gift for blending the mundane with the absurd. Animals act as humans. Humans and animals interact in impossible ways. Fantastic beasts confront factual ones.

The Fitzwillia​m Museum, Cambridge
Stella Panayotova, The Macclesfield Psalter: A Complete Facsimile, Thames & Hudson, 2008
Manuscripts illuminated in the British Islands, University of Saint Louis, 2007
Sam Enthoven, Medieval Monsters of the Macclesfield Psalter, Trapped by Monsters, April 2009
Carl Pyrdum, Knights and Snails, Got Medieval, July 2009



See also Medieval Imaginations, Flatflanders, Dailymedieval

Additional resources, to be explored:

Michelle P. Brown. The World of the Luttrell Psalter, London: The British Library, 2006. Depicting scenes of everyday rustic life with vibrant color and earthy wit, the Luttrell Psalter is a unique and vivid document of British culture in the 1320s. Unlike other illuminated manuscripts, the Luttrell Psalter does not focus only on religious imagery, but instead portrays the domestic dramas of the day. Scenes of farming, archaic medical treatments, music and dance, and even marital friction spill over the psalms and cover the margins of this celebrated book. In The World of the Luttrell Psalter, Michelle Brown unravels the Psalter's history and sets it firmly within medieval society. A crucial element of the Psalter's cultural context is its patron, wealthy landowner Sir Geoffrey Luttrell. Brown reveals that knowledge of Luttrell and the book's audience is as important to understanding the work's meaning as its striking imagery. Brown's engaging narrative traces the inspiration and creation of the book, identifying its forebears while elucidating its originality. With lavish illustrations that highlight the inventiveness of the manuscript, The World of the Luttrell Psalter is an appealing guide to a remarkable artifact.

Morgan, Nigel J. The Douce Apocalypse, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 2007. One of the finest of all medieval apocalypse manuscripts, the Douce Apocalypse was part of a series of illuminated texts that brought St. John’s apocalyptic visions to life. Now the manuscript—created sometime between 1250 and 1275—reaches an entirely new audience at the hands of noted scholar Nigel Morgan. The Douce Apocalypse explores the manuscript’s royal patronage, looks at its fascinating imagery, and examines its significance in light of contemporary prophecy. The commentary is accompanied by lush, full-color illustrations. As Morgan relates, the Douce Apocalypse is especially enlightening because of its unfinished nature. A few of its images remain incomplete—and such absences give insight into the artist’s painstaking techniques of drawing, gilding, and painting. The second volume in the Treasures from the Bodleian Library series, The Douce Apocalypse will convey both the beauty of the original and the enduring fascination of its contents.

Morgan, Nigel J. Illuminating the End of Time: The Getty Apocalypse Manuscript, J. Paul Getty Museum, 2012. The visionary nature of the Apocalypse—the biblical book of Revelation—along with its detailed descriptions of the end of the world have long made it ideal for illustration. Illuminated texts of the Apocalypse were particularly popular in thirteenth-century England, and the copy in the collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum, with its lively narrative miniatures, stands as a testament to the artistic heights achieved during that period. In this richly illustrated book, all eighty-two of the manuscript’s images are reproduced in color for the first time. They are accompanied by a full commentary. A general introduction to the history of thirteenth-century English illustrated Apocalypse manuscripts is followed by a succinct study of the artistic context of the Getty’s manuscript, as well as a consideration of its style and date. The rest of the commentary is devoted to a stylistic and iconographic analysis of the manuscript’s images; there is also a complete translation of the text.

Bridaham, Lester Burbank. The Gargoyle Book
Cipa, Shawn. Carving Gargoyles, Grotesques, and other Creatures of Myth
Raguenet, A. Gargoyles and Grotesques
Yenne, Bill. Gothic Gargoyles

Allan, Tony. The Mythic Bestiary: The Illustrated Guide to the World's Most Fantastical Creatures, 2008. Dragons and firebirds, fairies and orcs: these are just a few of the residents of The Mythic Bestiary. A whole menagerie of make-believe beings from the earth, water, and air inhabit these stunningly written and eye-catching pages, from Japan’s Yukki-onna, a beautiful but deadly spirit who appeared to stranded travelers, to the two-headed venomous snake Amphisbaena, which hailed from the imagination of the Greek poet Nicander. Many are hybrids such as the Quetzalcoatl, the Aztecs’ gorgeous combination of serpent and bird; others, more monstrous, tested the mettle of ancient heroes. A few, like the gigantic winged lion, lammasu served as guardian angels, warding against evil spirits. This guide gives not only a taxonomy of size, appearance, habitat, and powers, but also provides vivid descriptions of the cultures that produced them.

Whitlatch, Terryl. Animals Real and Imagined: Fantasy of What Is and What Might Be, Design Studio Press, 2010. A fantastic visual voyage into the world of animals, both real and imagined. There is no end to the diverse and unique creatures that Terryl Whitlatch creates for us with her solid knowledge of anatomy and boundless imagination. Especially intriguing are the 100s of anatomical notes that are dispersed among her sketches, educating and enlightening us to the foundation of living bodies and their mechanics.

Rosen, Brenda. The Mythical Creatures Bible: Legendary Beings, 2009. Fabulous animals, specters from the shadow world, nature spirits, and sacred beings: these are the monstrous, marvelous, and mythic creatures that have come down to us in folklore and legend. Some probably have their origins in reality; others spring completely from the imagination—and they are all here, in this stunningly illustrated bible. It’s rich in history and images, and international in scope, covering dragons and serpents; weird insects like the Aztec Itzpapalotl; zombies, golems, and banshees; the watery Undine; the Monkey King, Sun Wukong, and more.

Moorey, Teresa. The Fairy Bible, 2008. Fairies of the water, air, and earth, the trees and flowers, the house and hearth: all these mysterious, elusive creatures materialize on the pages of this distinctively beautiful guide to fairyland. Illustrated throughout with captivating artwork in glorious color, it examines fairy legend and lore through the ages and leads us into fairy cities, landscapes, rings, and paths. Find out what clothes they wear (fairies can be fussy about their dress), what they like to eat and drink, and what plants and animals they cherish. Discover the secrets of fairy festivals, and the various names they like to be called—including the Little Folk and Good Neighbors. Altogether, it’s a privileged glimpse into a paradise that vibrates at a different frequency than ours… and that few can ever see.

Liénard, Michel. Fantastic Ornament, Dover, 2006. Swirling with gargoyles, devils, dragons, griffins, and other images that haunt both dreams and nightmares, this otherworldly assortment features illustrations from a rare 19th-century volume. Images include cartouches, frames, doors, trophies, cabinets, friezes for textiles and wallpaper, decorative scutcheons, stone balustrades, arabesques, roof cornices, and more.

Merian, Matthäus, the Younger. Real and Fanciful Animals from Seventeenth-Century Engravings, Dover, 1998. Unusual and imaginative illustrations, carefully arranged into 4 major divisions —quadrupeds, birds, fishes, and insects— include realistic and fanciful depictions of virtually every real animal, plus such fantasy creatures as unicorns, dragons and basilisks.

Borges, Jorge Luis. The Book of Imaginary Beings, Penguin, 2006

Asma, Stephen T. On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears
Blumberg, Mark S. Fraks of Nature: What Anomalies tell Us about Development and Evolution
Hunter, Jack. Frak Babylon: An Illustrated History of Teratology and Freakshows, 2005
Leroi, Armand Marie. Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body
O'Rahilly, Ronan R., and Fabiola Müller. Human Embryology & Teratology, 3rd Edition, 2001

Macclesfield Alphabet Book, 1500. See also Claudia Ryan


O império do grotesco

Muniz Sodré e Raquel Paiva, O império do grotesco, Mauad Editora, 2002.

Tensão do estado fronteiriço
No começo do novo milênio, torna-se cada vez mais evidente que o grotesco é algo recorrente não apenas nas artes, como também na vida contemporânea, com um retorno preponderante na televisão, sem que se registrem estudos compreensivos sobre o fenômeno. Este livro traz uma visão ampla sobre a questão, examinando a sua genealogia como uma categoria estética importante, associando-a a atitudes e deslindado o seu papel na formação de públicos de massa na contemporaneidade. O livro apresenta uma conceituação clara do grotesco como estética da tensão dos estados fronteiriços entre o humano e o animal e, depois, a sua articulação com as diversas manifestações na indústria do entretenimento, sem esquecer os seus momentos críticos. Esta análise aborda literatura, cinema e até formas de vida, com ênfase especial à televisão, cujos pactos simbólicos com o grande público privilegiam o grotesco chocante.

Erich Barlach, Par amoroso, desenho

« Nudez, sexo, fofocas. O "prato feito" da web e programas popularescos de TV infesta como praga da agricultura. Nas últimas semanas, participantes de fóruns virtuais sobre mídia martelaram uma nova expressão: "jornalismo Tiririca", referência provocativa e genial ao slogan ("pior que está não fica") da campanha do palhaço cearense homônimo a uma vaga na Câmara dos Deputados.
Bem antes da popularização da internet no final dos anos 90 (as coisas estão aí há bastante tempo), já era clichê acadêmico a denúncia do empobrecimento do texto jornalístico, a abordagem burocrática das pautas, a precária formação intelectual dos profissionais de imprensa, traduzida em baixíssimos índices de leitura de repórteres, sem falar que, no Brasil, essa categoria quase não lança livros nem sistematiza conhecimentos, na comparação com países ricos.
Com o agressivo e competitivo mercado minuto a minuto de "notícias", faltam "reportagens" e sobram abobrinhas diversionistas publicadas em tabloides e revistas que promovem "celebridades" ou falas registradas em redes sociais (como Twitter e Facebook). Será que são famosos mesmo que atualizam ou assessores e consultores de imagem? Raramente se exercita a dúvida, como recomendam manuais, dando margem a gafes como a do mês passado com a repercussão apressada da falsa história de um restaurante canibal. Domina a lógica "se todos fazem, deve estar certo", na adesão automática ao banal, insosso, descartável, digno da lavra de robôs acéfalos.
Na onda do "jornalismo Tiririca", textos são ilustrados mais com reproduções de sites, blogs e afins, uma prova de que o fotojornalismo clássico ainda não conquistou espaço relevante nos meios eletrônicos. Questionamentos sobre a qualidade do que se publica nas diversas mídias soam antipáticos, carrancudos, coisa do passado ou mau humor de minoria.
Nas críticas em fóruns, é corriqueiro relacionar os abusos das notas de entretenimento ("softnews", como preferem alguns) à incorporação de ferramentas de audiência, de comentários na web (em papel, é difícil saber se algo que está na capa de um caderno realmente terá mais leitura do que o horóscopo do dia, por exemplo).
Entre jornalistas, o roteiro convencional do "papo cabeça" esquerdista sugere lamentos constantes sobre o conceito de notícia e um apego nostálgico a um passado de engajamentos políticos e românticos que pintavam o profissional de imprensa como um mártir da sociedade, metido na boemia e nas batalhas por um mundo justo e livre. Hoje, com algumas exceções, novas gerações parecem buscar mais o vedetismo, reforçando a má fama da categoria de carregar o rei e a realeza na barriga.
Para alguns que buscam o estrelato segurando um microfone ou assinando textos que só seus colegas reparam, um bom ponto de partida na discussão do "jornalismo Tiririca" é o livro "O Império do Grotesco", adotado em disciplinas de diversos cursos (não esquecer que diploma não é mais necessário, embora seja recomendável, para o exercício da profissão). Após a leitura dessa obra, não estranhe que algum canal tenha decidido gravar um "reality show" em uma redação de jornal, revista ou de TV » (Sérgio Ripardo, Folha, 1.9.2010).

Alfred Kubin, Homens-abutres, bico-de-pena


O grotesco se caracteriza pelo rebaixamento operado por uma combinação insólita e exasperada de elementos heterogênos, com referência freqüente a deslocamentos escandalosos de sentido, situações absurdas, animalidade, partes baixas do corpo, fezes e dejetos.

O grotesco é o fenômeno da desarmonia do gosto, que atravessa as épocas e as diversas conformações culturais. O grotesco é algo que se tem feito presente na Antigüidade e nos tempos modernos. Atravessa tempos diversos, à maneira de uma constante supratemporal.

É antiqüíssimo, por exemplo, o procedimento grotesco de identificação figurativa entre o homem e o animal, fazendo-se presente nas fábulas e em sistemas morais. Muitas vezes, a identificação passa pela referência ao excremento como metáfora para o rebaixamento frente a valores tidos como sublimes ou para uma radical ausência de qualidades. O grotesco representa o grau zero da condição humana.

O grotesco, assim, não opta por nenhuma moral progressista ou positivista. Muito pelo contrário, o grotesco funciona por catástrofe.

A palavra "grotesco" vem do italiano "grotta", que significa "gruta" ou "porão". Em fins do século XV, escavações feitas no porão do palácio romano de Nero revelaram ornamentos esquisitos na forma de vegetais, abismos, caracóis, etc. que fascinaram os artistas da época, que passaram a chamar tais objetos esquisitos de "grotescos", em referência às grutas ou porões em que foram encontrados. Em seguida, a denominação "grotesco" aplicou-se à combinação bizarra de elementos humanos, animais, vegetais e minerais.

Sempre associada ao disforme, a palavra "grotesco" foi ganhando significados novos, em geral associados ao desvio de uma norma expressiva dominante, seja referente a costumes, seja referente a convenções culturais.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo​, Eva com a maçã, óleo, 1578

O grotesco assume modalidades diversas:

a) escatológica: trata-se de situações caracterizadas por referências a dejetos humanos, secreções, partes baixas do corpo, etc.:
b) teratológica: referências risíveis a monstruosidades, aberrações, deformações, bestialismos, etc.

No grotesco, a excrescência e o nojo são apresentados como o antídoto para a banalidade da existência humana.

O grotesco revela-se na exasperação tensa ou violenta dos contrários, com recursos da caricatura, da sátira e da ironia. Manifesta-se também pela crueldade com que se tiram os véus das regras ou das convenções ditas civilizadas.

O grotesco tem obsessão pela corporalidade humana comer, defecar, copular, arrotar, vomitar. Também se faz referência à nudez e ao sangue.

O grotesco é uma categoria ampla, com vários aspectos, capaz de aplicar-se a uma infinidade de situações: da escultura e pintura à literatura, ao cinema e à televisão.

No caso da televisão, tem-se a tendência recente desse veículo é testar os limites de sua audiência. Nossa TV caracteriza-se por uma atmosfera sensorial de "praça pública", a praça como "feira livre" das expressões diversificadas da cultura popular (melodramas, danças, circo, etc.)

A televisão para as massas tornou-se importante dispositivo de articulação de um espaço público ao constituir como seu público categorias sociais as mais diversas, sob a bandeira uniformizante do consumo de massa.

A televisão se especializou num tipo de programa voltado para a ressonância imediata, atuando sobre a imediatez da vida coditiana. E como procedimento básico a TV privilegia fortemente a óptica do grotesco. Primeiro, porque suscita o riso cruel (o gozo com o sofrimento e o ridículo do outro); segundo, porque a impotência humana, política ou social de que tanto se ri é imaginariamente compensada pela visão de sorteios e prêmios, uma vez que se tem em mente o sentimento crescente de que nenhuma política de Estado promove ou garante o bem -estar pessoal; terceiro, porque o grotesco chocante permite encenar o povo e, ao mesmo tempo, mantê-lo a distância dão-se voz e imagem a ignorantes, ridículos, patéticos, violentados, mutilados, disformes, aberrantes, para mostrar a crua realidade popular, sem que o choque daí advindo chegue às causas sociais, mas permaneça na superfície irrisória dos efeitos.

Na realidade, as emissoras oferecem aquilo que elas e seu público desejam ver. O sistema televisivo mercadológico constituiu esse público que, ao longo dos anos, tornou-se ele próprio "audiência de TV".

O telespectador, entretanto, não é vítima, e sim cúmplice passivo de uma situação a que se habituou.

Em sua existência miserável, costuma o telespectador sonhar com o acaso que o levará, pela sorte, a ser chamado pela produção de um "reality show" para transformar em espetáculo a sua aberração existencial e sair de lá com um eletrodoméstico qualquer como prêmio. O grotesco, dessa maneira, é o que arranca o telespectador de sua triste paralisia.

No tocante ao público, não se sustentam as hipóteses de um "voyeurismo" freudiano com relação ao "reality show", pois o que se evidencia mesmo não é uma sexualidade de fundo, mas a fusão entre a banalidade dos fluxos televisivos e a existência banal dos telespectadores.

Após décadas de rebaixamento de padrões, o público em geral tornou-se esteticamente parte disso que os especialistas chamam de "trash" (lixo).

Daí o império da repetição exaustiva do banal.

Bomarzo, 1528-88


Medieval Imagination

McIlwain-Nashimura, Margot. Images in the Margins, The J. Paul Getty Museum and The British Library, 2009. Images in the Margins is the third in the popular Medieval Imagination series of small, affordable books drawing on manuscript illumination in the collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum and the British Library. Each volume focuses on a particular theme and provides an accessible, delightful introduction to the imagination of the medieval world.
An astonishing mix of mundane, playful, absurd, and monstrous beings are found in the borders of English, French, and Italian manuscripts from the Gothic era. Unpredictable, topical, often irreverent, like the New Yorker cartoons of today, marginalia—images drawn in the margins of manuscripts—were a source of satire, serious social observation, and amusement for medieval readers. Through enlarged, full-color details and a lively narrative, this volume brings these intimately scaled, fascinating images to a wider audience.

Physiologus: A Medieval Book of Nature Lore, tr. Michael J. Curley, 2009. One of the most popular and widely read books of the Middle Ages, Physiologus contains allegories of beasts, stones, and trees both real and imaginary, infused by their anonymous author with the spirit of Christian moral and mystical teaching. Accompanied by an introduction that explains the origins, history, and literary value of this curious text, this volume also reproduces twenty woodcuts from the 1587 version. Originally composed in the fourth century in Greek, and translated into dozens of versions through the centuries, Physiologus will delight readers with its ancient tales of ant-lions, centaurs, and hedgehogs—and their allegorical significance. The woodcuts reproduced are from the 1587 Rome edition.

Panayotova, Stella, ed. The Macclesfield Psalter, Thames & Hudson, 2008. Discoveries of real artistic treasures are exceptionally rare. The Macclesfield Psalter (c. 1335), a jewel of manuscript painting, was virtually unknown before its sale by Sotheby's in 2004. The manuscript offers a window into the medieval world, an intimate view of the faith, sentiments, prejudices, follies, and aspirations of medieval people. Doctors, minstrels, mummers, farmers, dancers, jesters, and beggars mingle on the pages as they would have done on the streets of a busy town. And the marginal imagery tempts the viewer to leave the confines of the prayer book and enter a wonderland of literary conceits, visions, and fables, with naked wild men, a dog dressed as a bishop, or a giant fish swimming across a page. The Macclesfield Psalter is a revealing product of artistic and patronage exchange in the Middle Ages. A complete reproduction of the manuscript at its original size is accompanied by an authoritative text that not only interprets the textual and artistic content but also beguiles the reader through its vivid descriptions and rich insights.

Morrison, Elizabeth. Beasts: Factual and Fantastic, J. Paul Getty Museum, 2007. Beasts Factual and Fantastic features vivid and charming details from the wealth of manuscripts in the collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum and the British Library, along with a lively text; together both word and image provide an accessible and delightful introduction to the imagination of the medieval world.

Barber, Richard. Bestiary: Being an English Version of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Bodley 764, Boydell Press, 2006. Bestiaries are a particularly characteristic product of medieval England, and give a unique insight into the medieval mind. Richly illuminated and lavishly produced, they were luxury objects for noble families. Their three-fold purpose was to provide a natural history of birds, beasts and fishes, to draw moral examples from animal behaviour (the industrious bee, the stubborn ass), and to reveal a mystical meaning - the phoenix, for instance, as a symbol ofChrist's resurrection. This Bestiary, MS. Bodley 764, was produced around the middle of the thirteenth century and is of singular beauty and interest. The lively illustrations have the freedom and naturalistic qualityof the later Gothic style, and make dazzling use of colour. This book reproduces the 136 illuminations to the same size and in the same place as the original manuscript, fitting the text around them. Richard Barber's translation from the original Latin is a delight to read, capturing both the serious intent of the manuscript and its charm.

Mandeville, John. The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, tr. C.W.R.D. Moseley, Penguin, 2005. Immediately popular when it first appeared around 1356, The Travels of Sir John Mandeville became the standard account of the East for several centuries—a work that went on to influence luminaries as diverse as Leonardo da Vinci, Swift, and Coleridge. Ostensibly written by an English knight, the Travels purport to relate his experiences in the Holy Land, Egypt, India, and China. Mandeville claims to have served in the Great Khan’s army and to have journeyed to “the lands beyond”—countries populated by dog-headed men, cannibals, Amazons, and pygmies. This translation by the esteemed C.W.R.D. Moseley conveys the elegant style of the original, making this an intriguing blend of fact and absurdity, and offering wondrous insight into fourteenth-century conceptions of the world. By the standards of the 14th century, the writing style of the man who called himself Sir John Mandeville is so informal as to be nearly chummy: "He who wants to pass over the sea to Jerusalem, may go by many ways, both by sea and by land depending on the countries he comes from; many ways come to a single end. But do not think I shall tell of all the towns and cities and castles that men shall go by, for then I must make too long a tale of it." Historians remain skeptical as to whether the author really did journey to the Holy Land and Egypt, or hire himself out as a soldier to the Great Khan of China. Whatever the case, it is indisputable that he is one of the first modern travel writers, as we have come to know the genre, and that his book was considered authoritative in matters geographical throughout Europe--consulted by Leonardo da Vinci and Christopher Columbus alike.

Camille, Michael. Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art, Reaktion Books, Essays in Art and Culture, 2004. 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.

Bildhauer, Bettina, and Robert Mills, eds. The Monstrous Middle Ages, University of Toronto Press, 2004. 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.

Bovey, Alixe. Monsters and Grotesques in Medieval Manuscripts, University of Toronto Press, 2002. 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.

Friedman, John Block. The Monstrous Races in Medieval Art and Thought, Syracuse University Press, 2000.

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. Of Giants: Sex, Monsters and the Middle Ages, University of Minnesota, Center for Medieval Studies, Medieval Cultures, Vol. 17, 1999.

Camille, Michael. Mirror in Parchment: The Luttrell Psalter and the Making of Medieval England, University of Chicago, 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.

Benton, Janetta Rebold. Holy Terrors: Gargoyles on Medieval Buildings, Abbeville, 1997. The true gargoyle is a waterspout, an architectural necessity that medieval artisans transformed into functional fantasies. In clear, lively language, the introduction to Holy Terrors explains everything that is known about the history, construction, and purposes of these often rude and rowdy characters. The three chapters that follow are devoted to the gargoyles themselves, in human, animal, and grotesque form. Delving into their sometimes funny, sometimes mysterious meanings, Dr. Benton's entertaining text puts these irresistible creatures into the context of medieval life, and she provides a guide to gargoyle sites, so that readers can visit their favorites. This is, amazingly, the first book for adults to provide a full overview of medieval gargoyles, and it is bound to increase the already numerous legions of gargoyle admirers.

Benton, Janetta Rebold. The Medieval Menagerie: Animals in the Art of the Middle Ages, Abbeville, 1992. Featuring incredible creatures and grotesque gargoyles, "The Medieval Menagerie" takes us from the improbable to the impossible as it traces the depiction and the meaning of real and imaginary animals in medieval art. From unicorns and dragons to elephants, lions, and monkeys, medieval society was fascinated with animals, whether they actually existed or not. The more fantastic the creature, the greater its hold seems to have been on the fertile imaginations of the Middle Ages. Both art and literature abound with vividly concocted examples of Gothic monsters (gargoyles and griffins), bizarre ideas about real if exotic beasts (lions were believed to be born dead and resurrected by the father lion three days later), and strange visions of composite creatures (such as a widely accepted animal believed to be a cross between an ant and a lion). Featuring the celebrated collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, "The Medieval Menagerie" is illustrated with the splendid and amusing beasts found in medieval painting, sculpture, architecture and decorative arts, as wello as in bestiaries and manuscripts. The text explores the depiction and the meaning of real and imaginary animals in medieval art.

Borges, Jorge Luis. The Book of Imaginary Beings (El libro de los seres imaginarios, 1967), tr. Andrew Hurley, Penguin, 2006. In a perfect pairing of talent, this volume blends twenty illustrations by Peter Sís with Jorge Luis Borges's 1957 compilation of 116 "strange creatures conceived through time and space by the human imagination," from dragons and centaurs to Lewis Carroll's Cheshire Cat and the Morlocks of H. G. Wells's The Time Machine. A lavish feast of exotica brought vividly to life with art commissioned specifically for this volume, The Book of Imaginary Beings will delight readers of classic fantasy as well as Borges's many admirers.
The master, writing with sometime collaborator Guerrero, compiled 82 one- and two-page descriptions of everything from "The Borametz" (a Chinese "plant shaped like a lamb, covered with golden fleece") to "The Simurgh" ("an immortal bird that makes its nest in the tree of science") and "The Zaratan" (a particularly cunning whale) in An Anthology of Fantastic Zoology in 1954. He added 34 more (and illustrations) for a 1967 edition, giving it the present title, and it was published in English in 1969. This edition, with fresh translations from Borges's Collected Fictions translator Hurley, and new illustrations from Caldecott-winner Sís, gives the beings new life. They prove the perfect foils for classic Borgesian musings on everything from biblical etymology to the underworld, giving the creatures particularly (and, via Sís, whimsically) vivid and perfectly scaled shape. "We do not know what the dragon means, just as we do not know the meaning of the universe," Borges (1899–1986) and Guerrero write in a preface, and the genius of this book is that it seems to easily contain the latter within it.

Asma, Stephen T. On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears, Oxford University Press, USA, 2011. Real or imagined, literal or metaphorical, monsters have exerted a dread fascination on the human mind for many centuries. Using philosophical treatises, theological tracts, newspapers, films, and novels, author Stephen T. Asma unpacks traditional monster stories for the clues they offer about the inner logic of our fears and fascinations throughout the ages. Asma's book zooms in on the subject of monsters, both mythical and real, past, present and future, detailing how they have fascinated and frightened the human imagination through all of recorded time. Conjuring dread, the mind's eye has embraced the Philistine giant Goliath, Grendel, the golem of Jewish lore, Frankenstein's monster, freak shows, monster spectacles and werewolves with equal parts affection and terror, writes Asma, a philosophy professor at Columbia College Chicago. Using varied media sources, from history to legend and literature, Asma studies the symbolic meaning of monsters (e.g., biblical monsters represent arrogance in the face of God's power) and their psychological function. He concludes that humans need an excuse to fight, protect and defend, as well as to transfer those horrific qualities, our own monstrous desires, to inhuman beings. A wide-ranging exploration of fear and evil, Asma's presentation and theories are original and practical, depicting those dark, repulsive notions of an unstable, turbulent world in which everybody must struggle to remain human and civilized. Hailed as "a feast" (Washington Post) and "a modern-day bestiary" (The New Yorker), Stephen Asma's On Monsters is a wide-ranging cultural and conceptual history of monsters--how they have evolved over time, what functions they have served for us, and what shapes they are likely to take in the future. Beginning at the time of Alexander the Great, the monsters come fast and furious--Behemoth and Leviathan, Gog and Magog, Satan and his demons, Grendel and Frankenstein, circus freaks and headless children, right up to the serial killers and terrorists of today and the post-human cyborgs of tomorrow. Monsters embody our deepest anxieties and vulnerabilities, Asma argues, but they also symbolize the mysterious and incoherent territory beyond the safe enclosures of rational thought. Exploring sources as diverse as philosophical treatises, scientific notebooks, and novels, Asma unravels traditional monster stories for the clues they offer about the inner logic of an era's fears and fascinations. In doing so, he illuminates the many ways monsters have become repositories for those human qualities that must be repudiated, externalized, and defeated.

Kearney, Richard. Strangers, Gods and Monsters: Interpreting Otherness, Routledge, 2002. Strangers, Gods and Monsters is a fascinating look at how human identity is shaped by three powerful but enigmatic forces. Often overlooked in accounts of how we think about ourselves and others, Richard Kearney skilfully shows, with the help of vivid examples and illustrations, how the human outlook on the world is formed by the mysterious triumvirate of strangers, gods and monsters. Throughout, Richard Kearney shows how Strangers, Gods and Monsters do not merely reside in myths or fantasies but constitute a central part of our cultural unconscious. Above all, he argues that until we understand better that the Other resides deep within ourselves, we can have little hope of understanding how our most basic fears and desires manifest themselves in the external world and how we can learn to live with them.

Gilmore, David, D. Monsters: Evil Beings, Mythical Beasts, and All Manner of Imaginary Terrors, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009. The human mind needs monsters. In every culture and in every epoch in human history, from ancient Egypt to modern Hollywood, imaginary beings have haunted dreams and fantasies, provoking in young and old shivers of delight, thrills of terror, and endless fascination. All known folklores brim with visions of looming and ferocious monsters, often in the role as adversaries to great heroes. But while heroes have been closely studied by mythologists, monsters have been neglected, even though they are equally important as pan-human symbols and reveal similar insights into ways the mind works. In Monsters: Evil Beings, Mythical Beasts, and All Manner of Imaginary Terrors, anthropologist David D. Gilmore explores what human traits monsters represent and why they are so ubiquitous in people's imaginations and share so many features across different cultures. Using colorful and absorbing evidence from virtually all times and places, Monsters is the first attempt by an anthropologist to delve into the mysterious, frightful abyss of mythical beasts and to interpret their role in the psyche and in society. After many hair-raising descriptions of monstrous beings in art, folktales, fantasy, literature, and community ritual, including such avatars as Dracula and Frankenstein, Hollywood ghouls, and extraterrestrials, Gilmore identifies many common denominators and proposes some novel interpretations. Monsters, according to Gilmore, are always enormous, man-eating, gratuitously violent, aggressive, sexually sadistic, and superhuman in power, combining our worst nightmares and our most urgent fantasies. We both abhor and worship our monsters: they are our gods as well as our demons. Gilmore argues that the immortal monster of the mind is a complex creation embodying virtually all of the inner conflicts that make us human. Far from being something alien, nonhuman, and outside us, our monsters are our deepest selves.

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. Monster Theory: Reading Culture, Univiversity of Minnesota Press, 1996.


Kayser plus Bakhtin

Books: The Grotesque of Kayser, Bakhtin, and Relatives

GROTESQUES. Pictures wherein (as please the Painter) all kinds of odde things are represented whithout anie peculiar sense, or meaning, but only to feed the eye (R. Corgrave, A Dictionnairie of the French and English Tongues, 1611).

Factor de desorientación. El terror nos asalta con rigor precisamente porque se trata de nuestro propio mundo, de manera que la confianza que depositábamos en él [el mundo] no resulta ser más que una apariencia. Simultáneamente tenemos la sensación de que no podríamos vivir en ese mundo de repente transformado. No se corresponde con lo grotesco el miedo a la muerte, sino el pánico ante la vida. Y a la estructura de lo grotesco pertenece la abolición de todas las categorías en que fundamos nuestra orientación en el mundo. Desde la ornamentación renacentista hemos asistido a la plasmación de procesos perdurables de disolución: la mezcla de ámbitos y reinos bien distinguidos por nuestra percepción, la supresión de lo estático, la pérdida de identidad, la distorsión de las proporciones «naturales», etc. Y en la actualidad se han sumado a aquellas otros procesos más de disolución: la anulación de la categoría de cosa, la destrucción del concepto de personalidad, el derribo de nuestro concepto de tiempo histórico (Kayser: Lo grotesco en literatura y pintura).

KAYSER, Wolfgang Johannes. The Grotesque in Art and Literature (1957), McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1966. The art of our own day shows a greater affinity to the grotesque than that of any other epoch. Modern novels, modern paintings and sculpture are replete with grotesque features. In this modern classic of criticism, Wolfgang Kayser traces the historical development of the grotesque from the Italian Reanissance (which originated the word "grottesco") through the "chimeric" world of the commedia dell'arte, Sturm und Drang, the age of Romanticism and nineteenth century "realism," to its modern forms in poetry, dream narration and surrealist painting (A).

Kayser's book on the grotesque touches its history, etymology and traditions. If you don't specialize in art or literature, his examples are sometimes hard to follow. There are parts of this book that are brilliantly illuminating, but other parts are like trudging through ankle deep mud. It's not that the book is inconsistent, it's that the examples Kayser chooses are so obscure that he has to explicate them and his summaries are hazy. Sometimes I couldn't even tell why he chose the examples that he chose. But when he's talking theory or history, he can be very inspiring. I found lots of quotable passages in the introduction and conclusion. Kayser suggests that the grotesque is grotesque only in as much as it is new and unknown, but as soon as one gets used to it, its grotesqueness tends to fade. Unfortunately Kayser's examples and descriptions lack the comic side of the grotesque almost completely (1+2).

BAKHTIN, Mikhail Mikhaĭlovich. 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 (B).

Bakhtin richly documents the range and scope of the popular-festive culture that is the hero of his book, its ancient roots, the vigorous life it enjoyed in the Middle Ages, its entry into important literature in the Renaissance, even the considerable traces of it that still survive after centuries of repression (Modern Language Quarterly).
The author rediscovers the spirit of the medieval carnival, a tradition that stemmed from ancient Greek and Rome: its function was to give a vent to people's death fear and anger over social injustice. "Everything was allowed" and for a short period of time the social taboos were erased. Fools and prostitutes were "crowned" to embody Kings, Queens, Pope, saints, monks and nuns. And the chosen ones were mocked, ridiculed, assailed, beaten, stoned, "dethrowned" and "impeached" (T. Elmanovich).
Bakhtin analyses the "Carnivalesque" and explores the sources of medieval popular culture that served Rabelais' language and purposes.
As for the significance of the individual in the Carnivalesque, Michael Lyons holds that one has only to look to the Fool. Bakhtin considered his first reading of Friedrich Nietzsche an epiphany and that German philosopher remained one of Bakhtin's most important influences throughout his writing career. The Fool, as an extension of the carnival, is the ultimate Nietzschean character. Able to move between worlds, he demonstrates the power of the individual to transcend societal norms. As Bakhtin explains, "the images of folk culture are absolutely fearless and communicate this fearlessness to all."

THOMSON, Philip John. The Grotesque, Routledge, 1972. Volume 24 of The Critical Idiom. A most clear exposition of the topic.

HARPHAM, Geoffrey. On the Grotesque: Strategies of Contradiction in Art and Literature (1982), The Davies Group, 2006. The concept of the grotesque appeared in the Renaissance when the word grottesche was first used as a name for a new, or a newly discovered, type of decorative art that incorporated human, floral, and animal elements, compromising a common-sensical distinction between the figural art of the center and the ornamental art of the margin. The richest undertanding of the grotesque, Harpham argues, derives from precisely such a confusion between margin and center, or between art that represents the world as conventionally perceived and the world as imagined in dreams, fantasies, or myths. Through discussions of pictorial art from the Paleolithic art of the cave, or "grotto" to more recent times, and of narratives of Bronte, Poe, Mann, and Conrad, Harpham argues that the grotesque should be seen as not as an artistic anomaly or aberration but as a "species of confusion" that structures the concept of art itself. A final chapter on the aesthetic theories of Kant, Hegel, Ruskin, and others tracks the ways in which the grotesque has haunted the thinking of the leading theorists of the Western tradition. Thus, accordig to Harpham, we should view the grotesque not as a marginal or aberrant form, but rather as a key to the Western artistic tradition which expands and enriches our understanding of art itself. Excerpt

KRISTEVA, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, Columbia University Press, 1982. Uncanny. A hallucinatory journey to the limits of symbolization. The act of reading this book can be an excersize in facing or coping with abjection. Includes interesting and accessible literary analyses.

KURYLUK, Ewa. Salome and Judas in the Cave of Sex. The Grotesque: Origins, Iconography, Techniques, Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 1987. The author explores the concept of the Grotesque and studies the literary and graphic work of Beardsley. Review by Stanley Weintraub: "Although Ewa Kuryluk has used, largely, Aubrey Beardsley's work--in words an in images--to represent a stage in the artistic use of the grotesque in Western culture, her real subject proves to be the mythmaking mind of Beardsley himself. [...] A log introduction on the origins of the grotesque as an outlet for antisocial impulses, and how the grotesque has manifested itself since the first cave drawings, is followed not by examining its use among fin-de-siecle writers and artists in general, but almost wholly as Beardsley employed it. [...] There is no question but that the grotesque dominates Aubrey Beardsley's art. The moving force of the grotesque world, Ewa Kuryluk tells us, was Eros. It was injected into landscape and architecture, and allegorized in different ways; it appeared as a winged boy or a horned satyr, a chevalier or a beast, a dwarf and an embryo who explored the female garden, isand or planet of love, a subterranean paradise. Further, she concludes, the artists of the grotesque, preoccupied as they were with death as well as with love, oscillated between sadism and masochism but had a stronger inclination for the second ("The Lens of the Grotesque," English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920, Vol. 31, No. 2, April 1988, p. 191-95).

ADAMS, James Luther, ed. The Grotesque in Art and Literature: Theological Reflections, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997. While there has been a growing interest in the use of grotesque imagery in art and literature, very little attention has been given to the religious and theological significance of such imagery. This fascinating book redresses that neglect by exploring the religious meaning of the grotesque and its importance as a subject for theological inquiry.

Review by Justin Torres: The Grotesque's Religious Implications (Washington, D.C., 1998). Standing always at the edge of society's consciousness is a group of artistic works that repel as they fascinate: the grotesque. Dismissed by the "respectable," and often condemned for their absurdity, incongruity, and perceived immorality, they nonetheless hold powerful sway in the popular imagination. Sordid pagan tales of incest and bloodletting, the medieval carnival, commedia dell'arte--these popular uprisings of the grotesque imagination reveal, through their marginalized position in the cultural scene, deep seated impulses that polite society has suppressed.
Yates surveys four major theoretical approaches to the grotesque-Wolfgang Kayser's grotesque as demonic "other," Mikhail Bahktin's edenic carnival, Geoffrey Harpham's notion of the grotesque as the process of becoming, and Ewa Kuryluk's feminist interpretation of the grotesque as an expression of subdued or oppressed "anti-worlds." Yates uses these theorists to identify major themes in grotesque art that speak to religious impulses: bafflement over the meaning of human existence; the dread of non-existence; man's ability to create; and our perception of the world as fallen.
Roger Hazelton's "The Grotesque, Theologically Considered" seems to express the central insight of this book: that the grotesque, like theology, forces us to reflect on mystery properly conceived. As Hazelton says:
"Mystery is not a synonym for residual ignorance which will be dispelled when the sciences get around to it. Neither can it simply be equated with the unknown or unknowable.... Theology and grotesque art ... find a certain affinity in a common persuasion that mystery remains a real and radical feature of our existing in the world-something not reducible to the aims and methods of technical expertise ... thus compelling other kinds of human response and acknowledgment."
For Hazelton, the grotesque, in expressing the mystery of Being recalls to us theology's enunciation of "that abiding, confiding trust and loyalty called faith." Also notable in this collection is Wolfgang Stechow's consideration of Hieronymus Bosch, whose Garden of Earthly Delights was placed by Spain's King Philip II at the altar of the Escorial. Bosch has long been a puzzle to art critics and the faithful alike. Praised by a Spanish monk at the time of its completion as a bold representation of man "as he is on the inside," the painting, with Dante's Inferno, ranks among the best commentaries of the grotesque nature of sin. The book also boasts an excellent examination of the gravedigger's scene from Hamlet and a previously unpublished play by Robert Penn Warren, Ballad of a Sweet Dream of Peace: A Charade for Easter.
The only disappointment in the collection is the essay that James Luther Adams wrote in the '70s before abandoning the project for a quarter century. "The Grotesque and Our Future" studiously avoids discussion of the deeper insights about man and religion the grotesque affords, instead confining himself to banal policy pronouncements. He quotes approvingly the call for a "revitalized United Nations" as the antidote to 20th century violence, a suggestion that gains a grotesque irony in the post-Sarajevo era. Surveying the cultural scene, he finds nothing more "typically and pathetically grotesque" than the spectacle of "the president's daughter tutoring two inner-city children at the White House." (One feels Dr. Adams has not looked hard enough.) Given the fact that we seem to be experiencing a uprising of the grotesque in popular music and movies--notice for example, Quentin Tarantino--this essay is a missed opportunity to discuss what the grotesque may say about our culture's future.
Still, in all, The Grotesque in Art and Literature is fascinating reading: well written, insightful, synthesizing various disciplinary approaches in an attempt to gain a view of the whole subject. Moreover, the subject of the grotesque may well become one of great interest to believers in the postmodern era. As American culture itself becomes more and more grotesque, there may be much insight to gain from art and literature that stands on the cultural edge and gazes back to the center.

CONNELLY, Frances S., ed. Modern Art and the Grotesque, Cambridge University Press, 2009. This volume examines how the grotesque has shaped 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, to explore alternate modes of experience and expression, and to challenge the status quo. Examining specific images by a range of artists, such as Ingres, Gauguin, Höch, de Kooning, Polke, and Mona Hatoum, these essays encompass a variety of media, including medical illustration, paintings, prints, photography, multimedia installations, and film. This study brings into focus a range of subjects, styles, and theoretical viewpoints that have traditionally been marginalized in the standard narratives on modernism. It demonstrates how the grotesque in modern art directly ties into debates regarding the representation of race and gender, abjection and the Other, globalization, and appropriation. Excerpt

CONNELLY, Frances S. The Grotesque in Western Art and Culture: The Image at Play, Cambridge University Press, 2012. This book establishes a fresh and expansive view of the grotesque in Western art and culture, from 1500 to the present day. Following the non-linear evolution of the grotesque, Frances S. Connelly analyzes key works, situating them within their immediate social and cultural contexts, as well as their place in the historical tradition. By taking a long historical view, the book reveals the grotesque to be a complex and continuous tradition comprised of several distinct strands: the ornamental, the carnivalesque and caricatural, the traumatic, and the profound. The book articulates a model for understanding the grotesque as a rupture of cultural boundaries that compromises and contradicts accepted realities. Connelly demonstrates that the grotesque is more than a style, genre, or subject; it is a cultural phenomenon engaging the central concerns of the humanistic debate today. Hybrid, ambivalent, and changeful, the grotesque is a shaping force in the modern era.

Related terminology: absurd, alienation, ambiguity, ambivalence, bestiary, bizarre, contradiction, creatures, curious, decoration, deformation, dissonance, distortion, dream, drollery, exaggeration, freaks, grotesqueries, grottesche, horror, human oddities, humor, hybridity, imaginary, imagination, language, marginalia, materia confusa, monsters, nightmare, ominous, ornamental, paradox, ridiculous, strange, teratology, uncanny.



GROTESQUES. Nom donné aux décors insolites qui recouvraient les murs et les voutes des chambres de la Maison de Néron devenue grotte après les dévastations. Les grotesques sont un genre de peinture ou de sculpture décorative, qui consiste en une combinaison étrange de feuillages, de fleurs, de fruits et d'autres éléments extraits du répertoire végétal, accompagnés d'animaux fantastiques ainsi que de figures humaines tressées ensemble de manière capricieuse qui n'a rien à voir avec la nature.

Alessandra Zamperini, Le grotesques, Citadelles & Mazenod, 2007. Parcours de ce genre pictural, de l'Antiquité romaine au XIXe siècle. Vasari définit les grotesques comme un genre de peintures libres et cocasses, inventé dans l'Antiquité pour orner des surfaces murales. Il a pour principaux motifs des rinceaux végétaux, des candélabres, des figures humaines, mythologiques, animales ou hybrides - insolites ou fantastiques - disposés sans aucune logique apparente, narrative ou spatiale. Le Moyen Âge a privilégié les hybrides monstrueux et les drôleries alors que le Quattrocento a cherché à se réapproprier les formes ornementales de l'Antiquité, notamment celles mis au jour par la découverte de la villa de Néron, la Domus Aurea, en 1480. Les grotesques connurent alors un extraordinaire succès, consacré par leur emploi dans les Loges du Vatican, décorées vers 1518 par Raphaël et son atelier. Ils devinrent une composante essentielle de la décoration des monuments profanes et religieux, envahissant même la céramique, la tapisserie et le mobilier, et de nombreux peintres se spécialisèrent dans ce genre. On peut parler de XVIe siècle triomphant. Au début du XVIIIe siècle, la découverte d'Herculanum et de Pompéi allait lui donner une nouvelle jeunesse, s'étendant aux décors d'intérieur, à l'habillement... Et, au XIXe siècle, alors même que néoclassicisme épurait le style, les grotesques continuèrent d'apparaître dans les arts appliqués, marqueterie, céramique, tissus et mobilier.

Berne, Fondation Abegg, Grotesken-Grotesques : Un style ornemental dans les arts textiles du XVIe-XIXe siècle, mai-octobre 1985. Texte par Alain Gruber.

Philippe Morel, Les grotesques : les figures de l'imaginaire dans la peinture italienne de la fin de la Renaissance, Flammarion, 2001. Le mot grotesque devient au XVIIIe 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.

Edgar Allan Poe
Histoires grotesques et sérieuses

Grottesche | Grotesken | Grotesques | Grotescos | Grutescos


Configuraciones grutescas

Originalmente titulada Grotesques, la presente nota proviene del Dictionnaire de la Peinture Larousse; ha sido traducida, adaptada a la lengua castellana e ilustrada por Mariano Akerman.

Motivos grutescos

Hacia fines del siglo XV los italianos descubren en Roma una serie de ruinas subterráneas, a las que toman por grutas, y debido a ello denominan "grutescos" a los motivos pictóricos hibridos que abundan en sus muros parietales y bóvedas. Tales motivos grutescos se encuentran antetodo en la Domus Aurea, dorado palacio del emperador Nerón. Allí, pinturas al fresco que exhiben configuraciones grotescas son alternadas con ligeros relieves en yeso respondiendo a lo que se suele denominar "cuarto estilo pompeyano" de decoración. Dicho estilo se caracteriza por sus arquitecturas fileteadas y filiformes así como por un vocabulario ornamental compuesto de plantas y animales, pro también de monstruos tales como grifos, esfinges y centauros.
Entusiasmados ante tal antigua imaginería a todo color y fascinados en particular con la expresión de fantasía que ella les revela, los artistas del Renacimiento no tardan en imitarlas y designan grotescos a los esquemas decorativos que subsecuentemente crean bajo su irresistible influencia.

Configuraciones grotescas al fresco
Grotteschi del Palazzo Vecchio en Florencia, siglo XVI

Hasta fin del siglo XVI, dada su naturaleza insólita y extravagante, los grotescos son considerados como la más característica expresión del capricho manierista. Los motivos grotescos cuentan con adherentes apasionados que defienden la libertad del artista y el carácter lúdico de las decoraciones a la grotesca (Serlio, Francisco de Holanda, Vasari, Cellini), pero también con adversarios encarnizados entre los clasicistas que siguen al pie de la letra los textos de Vitruvio, quien ya en tiempos de Augusto, y en defensa del naturalismo y la verosimilitud, criticaba los grotescos despiadadamente: "tales cosas no son, ni fueron ni serán jamás" (De Archittetura).

Configuración grotesca en candelabro del Cryptoporticus.
Antiguo fresco romano. Domus Aurea de Nerón, Roma

En el siglo XVII, cuando la Contrareforma, los grotescos son tolerados en tanto y en cuanto se los emplea con moderación (Gilio, Armenini), pero hay quienes se oponen a su componente quiméricoy erróneamente los consideran "jeroglíficos," parte de un lenguaje críptico, accesible sólo a una élite (Ligorio, Lomazzo). Tildando su contenido de "diabólico," Paleotti llega a proscribirlos de los lugares dedicados al culto.

Andrea Mantegna, Autorretrato grotesco, 1469
Óleo sobre yeso
Camera degli Sposi, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua

Prolongando el estilo de candelabros animados que fuera desarrollado en Florencia e incluso aún más en Venecia durante la segunda mitad del siglo XV, los artistas organizan los motivos grotescos sobre los frisos y pilastras de sus composiciones ejecutadas al fresco. Ghirlandaio los estiliza en el Nacimiento de la Virgen (Coro de S.M. Novella, Florencia, 1488). Pinturicchio los traduce en escala monocroma y logra sugerir pilastras esculpidas (Capilla Bufalini, Iglesia de Aracoeli, Roma, 1483-85), luego los engalana gracias a una policromía audaz (Capilla de S. Jerónimo, S. Maria del Popolo, Roma, c. 1488), intentando revivir las rápidas pinceladas de los artistas neronianos. Aplica también Pinturicchio motivos grotescos en la decoración de bóvedas. Desarrollando un estilo aún más plástico, Filippino Lippi pone en evidencia las deformaciones de sus monstruos para entonces volverlos deliberadamente fantásticos (Capilla Carafa, S. Maria sopra Miverva, Roma, 1488-93). Ostentando no poca erudición arqueológica, seguidamente integra Lippi los motivos grutescos en un complejo sistema ilusionista (Capilla Strozzi, S. Maria Novella, Florencia, 1487-1502). En la bóveda del Cambio (Perugia, 1499-1500), Pietro Perugino rodea una serie de medallones con verdaderas constelaciones de motivos grotescos un tanto tradicionales y que recuerdan aquellos ejecutados por Pinturicchio. Pero es Signorelli quien llega a crear su versión más demoníaca al liberar las formas híbridas de los principios compositivos que regían a los monstruos clásicos y las anima con una vitalidad desbordante (Capilla S. Brice, Catedral de Orvieto, 1501-4).

Pinturicch​io, Bóveda con motivos grotescos​, 1502
Biblioteca Piccolomin​i, Siena

A principios del siglo XVI surge una nueva generación de decoradores y ésta incluye verdaderos especialistas en materia de grotescos. Asistente de Pinturicchio, Amico Aspertini es el primero en integrar las arquitecturas fantasistas provenientes de los modelos antiguos. Mas la liberación completa de tales arquetipos se da especialmente con Giovanni da Udine, quien trabajando en el seno del taller de Rafael, revive con maestría los grotescos neronianos. En la Stufetta del cardenal Bibbiena (Vaticano, completada en 1516), en la Logetta (Vaticano, c. 1519) y en el Palazzo Baldassini (Roma), tiende Giovanni a cubrir superficies enteras con un original e importante repertorio de motivos grotescos al tiempo que además adopta la técnica "compendiaria" (es decir, compiladora) de los antiguos (para la cual estría él bien dotado desde el vamos en virtud de su origen septentrional).

Rafael Sanzio y Giovanni da Udine, Decoraciones grotescas, 1516
Logetta del cardenal Bibbiena, Vaticano

Luego de estas experiencias, Giovanni elabora en las Logias Vaticanas (Logias de Rafael, acabadas en 1519) un sistema decorativo cuya fama será de cardinal importancia para la época manierista: sus policromas configuraciones grotescas son contrastadas en alternancia con otras que son blancas y realizadas en yeso, y es allí donde el artista recurre a la fórmula de los antiguos romanos (aparentemente estudiada en los pasajes del Coliseo) y ejecuta un estilo naturalista de corte robusto. Idéntico sistema aplica en la Villa Madama (Roma, interrumpido en 1525).

Da Udine, Decoración con grotescos, 1515
Logias de Rafael, Vaticano

Tras el saqueo de Roma, Giulio Romano importa los grotescos a Mantua (Palazzo del Té, 1527-29 y 1530-35), volviéndo su caraácter masivo y arqueológico. Pierino del Vaga los introduce en el Palazzo Doria (a partir de 1528) refinándolos hacia el miniaturismo. Los grotescos se expanden por toda Italia y, durante la segunda mitad del siglo XVI, florecen en la decoración, particularmente en el Lacio (círculo de los Zuccari y luego Pomarancio) y en Toscana y Emilia (Cesare Baglione). Ya desde principios del siglo XVI los grotescos conquistan todas las artes menores. Ejectutados en piedra invaden la arquitectura (Tumba de Julio II, esculpida por Miguel Ángel; taller de Sansovino; multiplicación sobre las tumbas por Simone Mosca). Tratados como si fuesen graffiti, los grotescos llegan a cubrir las fachadas de los palacios (Andrea de Cosimo Feltrini en Florencia y Polidoro da Caravaggio en Roma). Nicoletto da Modena, Agostino Veneziano y Enea Vico hacen posible la difusión de los grotescos a través de sus grabados y estampas. Gracias a Amico Aspertini y Giovanni da Udine los grotescos se convierten en uno de los temas predilectos en las tapicerías florentinas de Bacchiacca (c. 1550). En el siglo XVII los artistas logran difundir las configuraciones grotescas hacia el norte y éstas se propagan más allá de los Alpes, aunque con un paulatino abandono de los modelos antiguos.


O Grotesco

Ornamento grotesco
Artes Visuais: Grotesco. O termo, derivado do italiano grottesco (de grotta, "gruta" ou "cova"), surge na história da arte aplicado a um estilo ornamental inspirado em decorações murais da Roma antiga, descobertas em ruínas escavadas no Renascimento. Tais monumentos soterrados, conhecidos como grottes (por exemplo, a Domus Aurea de Nero, descoberta em torno de 1500), fornecem sugestões para ornamentos - pintados, desenhados ou esculpidos - baseados em combinações de linhas entrelaçadas com flores, frutos e outras formas, como figuras extravagantes, máscaras e animais fora do comum. O ornamento grotesco, de modo geral, se caracteriza pela criação de universos fantásticos - repletos de seres humanos e não-humanos, fundidos e deformados -, pelo apelo à fantasia e ao mundo dos sonhos e pela fabricação de outras formas de realidade.

Um dos primeiros exemplos do ornamento grotesco é o friso da Anunciação, 1486, de Carlo Crivelli (ca. 1430 - ca.1495), que se destaca pela deformação de elementos naturais e pela combinação original de volumes e cores. Nos grotescos de Luca Signorelli (ca.1450 - 1523) para a Catedral de Orvieto, pintados entre 1499 e 1504, emaranhados de objetos e criaturas estranhas constituem o fundo no qual se destacam cinco medalhões representando cenas da Divina Comédia, de Dante Allighieri (1265 - 1321).

Signorelli, Dante e grotescos, 1499-1504

Entre os mais célebres e influentes ornamentos grotescos encontram-se aqueles realizados por Rafael (1483 - 1520) para o forro e pilares das loggie papais, compostos de arabescos e linhas onduladas verticais, com animais e espécies vegetais entrelaçados (ca.1515).
Grotescos por Rafael e Giovanni da Udine

Iniciado em solo italiano no século XVI, o grotesco se difunde por toda a Europa, a partir de então. O trajeto da noção de grotesco no tempo retira dela o sentido técnico específico de um tipo de decoração romana tardia (e de um estilo renascentista nela inspirado), transformando-a freqüentemente em adjetivo, para designar o que é bizarro, fantástico, extravagante e caprichoso. Dessa maneira o Dicionário da Academia Francesa (1694) normatiza o vocábulo, que passa à linguagem crítica em acepção ampliada, muitas vezes associado também ao ridículo, ao absurdo e ao antinatural. Os motivos dos grotteschi são retomadas por Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720 - 1778) e Robert Adam (1728 - 1792) no bojo do neoclassicismo e passam a constituir traços eventuais das artes decorativas em geral, embora despidos das fantasiosas combinações dos grotescos da Renascença. O movimento neoclássico, ao rejeitar a linha curva e retorcida dos estilos anteriores (barroco e rococó), descarta de modo geral o grotesco, considerado excessivo e despropositado. Valorizado pelos românticos (para os quais a arte deve representar tanto o belo como o feio e o deformado), o grotesco se transforma, posteriormente, em categoria estética e literária para fazer referência a um tipo de descrição ou de tratamento deformador da realidade, que pode ter como finalidade provocar o riso e/ou obter uma intencionalidade satírica de caráter moral ou político.

Acompanhar o itinerário dessa noção no tempo e no espaço obriga a consideração de diferentes artistas, escolas e movimentos. Entre os flamengos, Pieter Brueghel, o Velho (ca.1525 - 1569), lança mão do recurso do grotesco em obras ilustrativas de provérbios (Parábola dos Cegos, 1568). Elementos grotescos também povoam as "paisagens infernais", de Pieter Brueghel, o Moço (1564 - 1638), por exemplo, Inferno com Virgílio e Dante, 1594. Mas entre eles é Hieronymus Bosch (ca.1450 - 1516) que se destaca pela composição de obras não convencionais, em que se mesclam elementos fantasiosos, criaturas meio-humanas e meio-animais, demônios e seres deformados, imersos em ambientes paisagísticos e arquitetônicos fantásticos (O Jardim das Delícias e A Tentação de Sto. Antão, ambas sem datação precisa). Dos alemães, podem ser citadas obras de Matthias Grünewald (ca.1480 - 1528), em especial a Crucificação do altar da Abadia Antonita em Isenheim, Alsácia, finalizado em 1515, que dá destaque ao corpo deformado e marcado de Cristo, e as de Albrecht Dürer (1471 - 1528), por exemplo, a série de gravuras que compõem o Apocalipse, 1498.

Na Inglaterra, as expressões do neogótico, com suas inclinações para os efeitos insólitos e surpreendentes, assim como a produção de Heinrich Füssli (1747 - 1825), cuja obra aspira a um sublime que tende ao fantástico e ao horrendo (O Pesadelo, 1781), podem ser mencionadas como possibilidades de uso do grotesco. Em solo espanhol, Francisco de Goya (1746 - 1828) é responsável por ampla produção em que os elementos grotescos se sucedem, seja em telas como Visão Fantástica, 1820/1821, seja nas séries de gravuras Caprichos, 1799, e Desastres de Guerra, 1810/1814. O universo monstruoso do belga James Ensor (1860 - 1949), com suas máscaras, esqueletos e anjos decaídos - aproxima-se dos de Bosch e Brueghel pelo recurso ao grotesco.

Os espaços tenebrosos, a temática da morte e as construções macabras ligam o nome do austríaco Alfred Kubin (1877 - 1959) à tradição do grotesco. Da mesma forma, a pintura de Edvard Munch (1863 - 1944) e o expressionismo de Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880 - 1938) aparecem como atualizações do grotesco, em obras que reeditam, e radicalizam, os ensinamentos românticos, por meio da deformação das figuras e imagens (O Grito, 1893, de Munch, e Marcella, 1910, de Kirchner). As vanguardas das primeiras décadas do século XX - sobretudo o surrealismo e o dadaísmo - se valem do grotesco em suas representações do fantástico, da dor e da loucura, bem como no tratamento dado ao sexo, ao erotismo e ao corpo.

Tomando o grotesco em sua acepção mais ampla, é possível pensar que o recurso à deformação de figuras humanas, com sentido dramático, pode ser encontrado na arte brasileira desde as obras do Aleijadinho (1730 - 1814). A produção de Alvim Correa (1876 - 1910) deve ser mencionada no que diz respeito à composição de ambiências grotescas; sua série A Guerra dos Mundos, 1903, com paisagens devastadas, seres estranhos - meio máquinas, meio animais - e formas humanas enlaçadas por animais, é exemplar do ponto de vista da criação de paisagens insólitas e fantásticas, com tom tragicômico.

Alvim Correa, Sem Título, s.d.
Bico de pena e aguada sobre o papel, 29 x 20,5 cm.
Coleção Particular

Fonte. Grotesco: Definição, Enciclopédia Itaú Cultural - Artes Visuais, São Paulo, Brazil, 12.12.2006


Da Antiguidade até hoje, o grotesco sempre esteve presente na cultura, mas mantido numa espécie de subclasse da arte por estar em desarmonia com a chamada “metafísica do belo”, construída até a Idade média e difundida como estética artística a partir do Renascimento. O “belo artístico” ficou associado a proporção, harmonia, simetria, forma, perfeição, ao bem e ao verdadeiro. Por outro lado, o grotesco, como estilo artístico, só foi descoberto no final do século 15, a partir de escavações em porões e grutas romanas (grotta, em italiano), nas quais foram encontradas pinturas que misturavam formas humanas às vegetais e animais. Ele combinava elementos heterogêneos e se desviava da “norma” artística predominante à época, o que estabeleceu, desde então, a marginalidade do estilo em relação ao clássico. Essa descoberta surpreendeu os contemporâneos pelo jogo insólito, fantástico e livre das formas vegetais, animais e humanas que se confundiam e transformavam entre si. O quanto este tipo de imagem distancia-se dos padrões clássicos pode ser avaliado pelas palavras iniciais da Arte Poética, de Horácio, um dos teóricos mais influentes da poética clássica: "Suponhamos que um pintor entendesse de ligar a uma cabeça humana um pescoço de cavalo, ajuntar membros de toda procedência e cobri-los de penas variegadas, de sorte que a figura, de mulher formosa em cima, acabasse num hediondo peixe preto; entrados para ver o quadro, meus amigos, vocês conteriam o riso?"
O vocábulo "grotesco" teve origem na língua italiana – la grottesca e grottesco, derivados de grotta (gruta). O termo foi utilizado para denominar objetos ornamentais e pinturas encontrados em escavações feitas em Roma no final do século 15. Suas formas eram inacabadas, abertas e fantásticas, metamorfoses de figuras humanas com animais, fugindo da representação real. O grotesco é o belo de cabeça para baixo é uma espécie de catástrofe do gosto clássico.
Com o tempo, o sentido de grotesco alarga-se, passando a referir-se não somente àquele tipo de pintura, mas a um estilo de representação que se caracteriza pelo exagero, o hiperbolismo, a profusão, o excesso. Como resultado do procedimento grotesco de mostrar a mistura de corpos, encontramos também, em geral com fins satíricos, a fusão do corpo humano com o corpo animal, como nas pinturas de Bosch e no conjunto de desenhos intitulado "Caprichos", de Goya. No século 18, o classicismo rejeita o grotesco por considerá-lo algo imaginado, sonhado, fantasioso, irreal, sem significado, de mau gosto, distante da inteligência e da verdade. Outra característica do grotesco é a ênfase, pela hipérbole, naquilo que Mikhail Bakhtin denomina de baixo corporal: orifícios, protuberâncias, ramificações e excrescências, tais como a boca aberta, os órgãos genitais, seios, falo, barriga e nariz.
Existem algumas correntes discursivas que caracterizam o grotesco. Uma delas é a teoria da carnavalização, tendo como principal porta-voz Bakhtin. Essa corrente é utilizada para conceitualizar formações e conflitos sociais, ou políticos. Assim, o corpo grotesco é identificado como estrato inferior, degradado, a morte, o nascimento, o imundo, um corpo mutável, aberto, irregular. Diferente do corpo clássico, que é fechado, acabado, contido, simétrico, se identifica com a cultura superior e tem inspirações burguesas. Outra corrente debatida é o grotesco como estranho. Wolfgang Kayser defende o grotesco estranho, um mundo que se tornou estranho.
O grotesco, enquanto manifestação de formas aberrantes e escatológicas, é um fenômeno que se alastra pela vida contemporânea, com reverberações fortes nas artes em geral. A contrafação dos cânones esteticamente corretos seduz amplas faixas de audiência, predispostas a rir diante das situações chocantes que desfilam em telas e imagens. Com a sua propensão ao bizarro e ao vulgar, o grotesco é capaz de subverter o sentido estabelecido das coisas.

O jogo de contrastes entre rebaixamento e elevação remete ao conceito bakhtiniano de carnaval. Segundo Bakhtin, uma das características dos festejos carnavalescos na Idade Média e no Renascimento é a inversão da hierarquia vigente: personalidades elevadas como o rei ganham sua versão rebaixada, normalmente representada de maneira grotesca, como o Rei Momo; por outro lado, o povo se permite imitar trajes e maneiras fidalgas. Portanto, o carnaval transmite uma impressão de mundo às avessas. Além disto, o carnaval provoca os exageros relacionados com o baixo corporal, a profusão de cores e detalhes e uma multidão compacta que sugere a mistura de corpos, características do grotesco. No carnaval, como na obra de Rabelais, o grotesco, associado ao riso alegre, adquire um sentido positivo.

Moda grotesca: Callot, Balli di Sfessania, 1621-22
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...