From Academic Kids

When commonly used, grotesque means strange, fantastic, ugly or bizarre, and thus is often used to describe shapes and distorted forms such as Halloween masks or gargoyles on churches. More specifically, the grotesque forms on buildings which are not used as drainspouts should not be called gargoyles, but rather referred to simply as grotesques.

See also: Sheela Na Gig, Hunky Punk, mask, mummers play, pumpkin


In art history

In art, grotesques are a decorative form of arabesques with interlaced garlands and strange animal figures which were fashionable in ancient Rome (as wall decoration, mosaics, etc.) and in Renaissance art as wall decoration, in marquetry (fine woodwork), in book illustration and in other decorative uses. It should not be confused with the decorative form of strapwork (the portrayal of leather straps in plaster or wood moldings). In Medieval Illuminated manuscripts terminology, drolleries, half-human thumbnails drawn in the margins, are also called "grotesques".

In typography

Grotesque (generally with an upper-case G) is the style of the sans serif types of the 19th century. The name was coined by William Thorowgood, the first to produce a san serif type with lower case, in 1832. (Capital-only faces of this style were available from 1816.) Examples of Grotesque designs are:

The later designs are sometimes classified as neo-grotesque (see: typeface).

In literature

In fiction, a character is usually considered a grotesque if he induces both empathy and disgust. (A character who inspires disgust alone is simply a villain or a monster.) Obvious examples would include the physically deformed and the mentally deficient, but people with cringe-worthy social traits are also included. The reader becomes piqued by the grotesque's positive side, and continues reading to see if the character can conquer his darker side.

Southern Gothic is the genre most frequently identified with grotesques and William Faulkner is often cited as the ringmaster. Flannery O'Connor wrote, "Whenever I'm asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one" ("Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction," 1960). In her often-anthologized story "A Good Man is Hard to Find," the Misfit is clearly a maimed soul, utterly callous to human life but driven to seek the truth. The less obvious grotesque is the polite, doting grandmother who is unaware of her own astonishing selfishness.

In Architecture

Missing image
Grotesque at the University of Chicago

While often confused with gargoyles, these stone carvings are not born from the general form of a water spout. Rather, they may take any number of upright positions.


The word grotesque comes from the same Latin root as "grotto", meaning a small cave or hollow. The expression comes from the unearthing and rediscovery of ancient Roman decorations in caves and buried sites in the 15th century.fa:صور عجایب pl:Groteska sv:Grotesk (arkitektur)


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