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Grotesque

time, taste, ornament, modern, word and nature

GROTESQUE, that beautiful light style of ornament used by the ancient Romans, in the decoration of their palaces, Laths, and villas. It is also to be seen in some of their am phitheatres, temples, and tombs, the greatest part of which being vaulted, and covered with ruins, have been dug up and cleared by the modern Italians, who for these reasons gave them the name of grotte, which is perhaps a corruption of the Latin cryptic, a word borrowed from the Greeks, as the Romans did most of their terms in architecture : and hence the modern word grotesque, and the English word grotto, signifying a cave.

In the time of Raphael, Michael Angelo, Julio, Romano, Polidore, Giovanni d'Udine, Vasaro, &hero, and Algerdi, there is no doubt but there were much greater remains of the grotte than what are now to be seen, and in imitation of them were decorated the loggias of the Vatican, the villas of Madonna, Pamfili, Capraola, the old palace at Florence, and indeed whatever else is elegant or admirable in the fin ishing of modern Italy.

This classical style of ornament, by far the most perfect that has ever appeared for inside decorations, and which has stood the test for so many ages, like other works of genius, requires not only fancy and imagination in the composition, but taste and judgment in the application, and when these are happily combined, this gay and elegant mode is capable of inimitable beauties.

Vitruvius, with great reason, condemns an over licentious ness of this kind and blames the painters of his time for introducing monstrous extravagances. We do not mean to vindicate any thing that deserves such appellations ; hut surely in light and gay compositions, designed merely to amuse, it is not altogether necessary to exclude the whimsical.

Its origin is discernible in the Egyptian hieroglyphic writing, where the heads and limbs of men and beasts are attached to blocks of stone, to vases, or to foliage, &c., thereby characterizing the inclinations and the powers of the dotty or person whose history they record. or whose peculiar

transactions they are intended to preserve in the remem brance of future ages.

With the Egyptians it remained rude and unpolished ; but when the Greeks adopted it, they made all ornamental use of it, and it became a medium to exhibit their general knowledge of nature. The taste with which they united in one form, not only parts of various animals, but objects so totally diverse in their nature and appearance, as the produc tions of the animal and vegetable kingdoms, is in the highest degree delightful to contemplate. The formation of chimeri cal beings, as the dragon, the sphinx, the gi iflin, &c., owe their origin to this taste; which received much of its force and interest in heathen days, from the my thological enigmas couched under these compound forms. Such is the charac ter of that ornament so common on Egyptian structures, the winged serpent surrounding an egg. Now that these mys terious emblematic meanings are disregarded, and no longer treated with reverence, grotesque painting and sculpture are continued in use merely because the forms they produce are pleasing to the eye ; and although the understanding is in sulted by them, such is the power of the beauty of form, that we are gratified by it, in spite of our reason.

Those who wish to make themselves acquainted with it, will find the best exemplars on ancient Greek sarcophagi, altars, vases, friezes, &c., of which Piranesi and Rocehegiani have given an ample store to the public in their valuable works. Mr. C. II. Tatham has given likewise a tasteful and judicious series of examples of this kind, in his Collection of Etchings of Ornamental Architecture, from time Antique at Rome. Le Roy's, Le nitre's, and many other works of the like kind, may also be consulted with advantage.