Etymology of Grotesque

It can be seen in the Italian language as grottesco, associated with grotta, referring to a ‘grotto’, in allusion to the passage and interior of a cave or underground space, and the latter, from the Latin crypta, connecting to the Greek kryptḗ, feminine form of kryptos, translated to ‘crypt’, with reference in the verb krýptein, which refers to ‘hide’ or ‘conceal’, identifying a possible root in the Indo-European *krau-, for ‘cover’.

It is an expression that arises as a prelude to the Renaissance, from documented Roman traditions around the ruins of the Golden House (known in Latin as Domus Aurea) belonging to the Emperor Nero, from which a pastime is awakened among groups of young people to explore the hidden passages to the discovery of valuable pieces, taking samples that were purchased by craftsmen from the vicinity, who replicated them to sell as decorative objects. This practical “treasure hunt” was extended among students and art professionals. One of the minds that went through these passages was Rafael.

Likewise, grotesque points to social practices that clash with standards. The caricature of a political personality can be framed as something grotesque by exaggerating its physical characteristics as well as some of its actions by way of criticism. One of Da Vinci’s creations, dated approximately to 1490, is precisely a caricature called Grotesque Heads, featuring five figures, representing a different mood in the expression of each one.

Search a Word