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Grotesque Painting & Sculpture in Italy

Living in Umbria, I often have the opportunity to travel throughout Italy and take in its beauty and art. Recently I visited Castelbuono, Sicily and Florence, Tuscany and came upon grotesque painting & sculpture there.


The origin of grotesque painting can be found in fragments of Pompeiian frescos. Below an example present at the Museo Nazionale Romano at Palazzo Massimo next to Termini Station in Rome which I highly recommend visiting on your next trip to Rome.


However I am certain that their true origin lies further back in history, perhaps in another civilisation. This style of painting just didn’t appear out of nowhere. Roman culture was a hybrid of all the cultures it encountered.

The origin of the grotesque has been lost in the mists of time.


The word grotesque today has become synonymous of whimsical and bizarre characteristics rather than of decadence with which it was associated with in the renaissance.


The examples below are from my last visit to Palazzo Vecchio in Florence and are located all along the atrium preceding the museum entrance.


If you look closely one can see the mathematical correspondences elegantly inscribed in the architectural space. First of all, the axel symmetry is striking which internally restrains and does not allow the rampage of fantasy to spread out.



Frequently encountered images of human figures turning into foglia or animalistic ornament, almost inexplicable connection between various objects that are ones typical of a dream.

It is a sort of Ovid metamorphosis.



The combination of clarity of the silhouette turning into the thinnest line tells us that the grotesques are designed for low ceilings, otherwise these thin lines would be lost in the architectural space.

The below images are from the Castelbuono Museum in Castelbuono, Sicily. I visited last year.


The formula of the grotesque is striking in its completeness like alpha and omega. The gaze miraculously wanders in a phantasmagoric space leading you back to the very beginning.







Have you ever visited Italy and observed grotesque painting? Do you know of other beautiful examples? Share your comments below and I will reply.

Thank you

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