Caricatures are extremely popular. Chances are that you have already seen many caricatures while turning the pages of your favorite newspaper or even magazines. Caricatures capture the beauty of art and wit. They are humorous in nature and should be taken lightly. A caricature is simply an image which showcases the feature of a subject in either an exaggerated or simplified manner through artistic drawing, pencil strokes, or sketching. According to literature, a caricature exaggerates certain characteristics of a person and simplifies others. Caricatures can either be complimentary or insulting. They have been highly controversial in the past. Caricatures serve different purposes but entertainment and political purposes are the most common. Newspapers feature caricatures of politicians and entertainment magazines tend to show caricatures of celebrities.


Origins of Caricature

Caricature is derived from the Italian words “caricare” and “carico” which mean “to exaggerate” or “to load”. The Italian siblings Annibale Carracci and Agostino had applied the words during the 1590s and founded the word caricature and gave it meaning. The word was used to describe some of the exaggerated portrait sketches that were created by the duo. Some of the descriptions that have been left clearly show that the images had been meant as humor and to mock artistic theories that they had been taught during their time at the Bologna Academy. However, one might wonder to themselves that why it had to take such a long time for caricatures to be considered a recognized art form. But, it is important to keep in mind for artists used to create representational art in the past and it was their end goal. During the period of High Renaissance, artists focused on it to a greater degree. It was only after this time that artists perfected their art and started to disassemble it. The process took hundreds of years and only then dud artists produce abstract art such as the geometric concrete art by Mondrian.

For the next hundred years that came, caricature remained an Italian art form. Exaggerated human portraits were also drawn by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in Northern Europe in the mid 16th Century. It is also believed that artists during the Middle Ages who drew gargoyles and other biomorphic animals on manuscripts also drew caricatures. The Garden of Earthly Delights includes imagery by the famous Hieronymus Bosch. Giuseppe Arcimboldo was the nest popular Italian caricaturist and artist who was inspired by life in Prague and had painted several burlesque portraits of Kings and Emperors using workmen tools, pans, pots, and vegetables.

Bernini is a well-known sculptor who drew interesting portraits to mock his friends and even himself during the seventeenth century in Italy. According to Bernini, he believed that characters can be drawn by just a few strokes of his pen. However, it was only in the eighteenth century that Pier Leone Ghezzi decided to pursue his passion and became a professional caricaturist.  Pier Leone was even a Rococo painter and made a good living by creating interesting drawings for tourists who visited Italy from around the world.

During the mid seventeenth century, many Italian caricatures had made their way to London that Arthur Pond, a publisher took an interest in the art form. The drawings made by Pier Leone, Carlo Maratti, and Annibale Carracci were printed by Pond and managed to be well-received by the public. By the eighteenth century, satirical caricatures were extremely popular in the United States, Britain, and France.

William Hogarth was an English painter during the eighteenth century who was the first English artist who drew exaggerated caricatures. Some of his well-known works include Marriage a la Mode, The Rake’s Progress, and The Harlot’s Progress. It was only later in the eighteenth century that  artists began to transform people into different things like fruits, vegetables, and animals. Thomas Rowlandson and James Gillray were the first English caricaturists to depict politicians from the French Revolutions as pigs, spiders, and goats to depict gluttony, cunningness, and despicable lechery. Only the human face of the individual had been included in the animal’s body to ensure that it was clear among the masses what the artist wanted to depict.


First Magazine To Feature Satirical Caricatures

Punch Magazine was the first British magazine to feature satirical caricatures. It was founded in the 1820s and quickly became popular in Britain due to its humorous depictions. One of the most famous illustrators of Punch Magazine was John Leech. Moreover, Punch Magazine is said to have caused the word cartoon to be used in the place of caricature for the depictions of politicians during its most popular years.


Besides just Britain, France also made a name for itself in the world of caricatures. During the nineteenth century, the genre was dominated by Honore Daumier who drew political cartoons for La Caricature. One of his caricatures even landed him in prison for six months as he drew a caricature which criticized King Louis Philippe. The reason behind Daumier’s success was the fact that he knew how to draw a cartoon that considered the physical and mental defects of an individual.

Post Eighteenth Century

As railways were introduced, the circulation of magazines became widespread. Magazines could be distributed quickly and to just about every region. This led to an increase in the audience. Caricatures became a sensation and just a stroke of the pen could destroy the image of a politician. The tradition has continued to this day and artists around the world can be found drawing different politicians which highlight their characteristics. If the subject has any peculiarities, they would be exaggerated such a huge nose, mannerisms, or a unique hair style.

Modern Times

In the twentieth century, caricature art continued to dominate the mainstream. No world leader was spared and even military leaders were satirized. Most newspapers post the Second World War feature caricatures and the tradition continues to this day. There are even many design studios such as Karikatur zeichnen lassen that are dedicated to the caricature art form.