What is a Caricature?

A caricature is a distorted picture of a person, intended to be humorous, satirical, or insulting. The caricaturist usually exaggerates an easily recognized feature of the subject’s appearance or habits, such as a large nose, bushy eyebrows, an unfriendly expression or a distinctive way of dressing.

Until recently, affectionate caricature was less common, which emphasizes some admired or warmly regarded trait. The subject of a caricature may be either a particular person or an easily recognizable type. Usually the caricature can be appreciated only if its subject is well known.

A political cartoon, for example, may caricature a public figure by endowing him with animal characteristics. Political leaders are constantly caricatured in cartoons that appear in newspapers and magazines. These caricatures are intended as comments on political events, and they may show politicians as praiseworthy, ridiculous or even evil.

Literary forms of caricature include satire, parody, and burlesque, all of which ridicule subjects through comic exaggeration. The term “caricature”, however, generally refers to pictorial representations.

Caricature in the modern sense, the distortion of a real person or type, was first practiced by such Renaissance artists as Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Diirer. Extreme exaggeration characterizes the 16th-century grotesque art of Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Brueghel. At the same time, caricature became an independent art in the satirical portraits of Annibale Carracci.

The term caricatura was first used by Annibale Carracci, the classical painter, to signify drawings pregnant with wit (caricare, to load).