1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Grotesque

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GROTESQUE, strictly a form of decorative art, in painting or sculpture, consisting of fantastic shapes of human beings, animals and the like, joined together by wreaths of flowers, garlands or arabesques. The word is also applied to any whimsical design or decorative style, if characterized by unnatural distortion, and, generally, to anything ludicrous or extravagantly fanciful. “Grotesque” comes through the French from the Ital. grottesco, an adjective formed from grotta, which has been corrupted in English to “grotto.” The commonly accepted explanation of the special use of the term “grotesque” is that this particular form of decorative art was most frequently found in the excavated ancient Roman and Greek dwellings found in Italy, to which was applied the name grotte. The derivation of grotta is through popular Lat. crupta or grupta (cf. “crypt”), from Gr. κρύπτη, a vault, κρύπτειν, to hide. Such a term would be applicable both to the buried dwellings of ancient Italy, and to a cavern, artificial or natural, the ordinary sense of the word. An interesting parallel with this origin of the word is found in that of “antic,” now meaning a freak, a jest, absurd fancy, &c. This word is the same as “antique,” and was, like “grotesque,” first applied to the fanciful decorations of ancient art.