AskDefine | Define caricature

Dictionary Definition

caricature n : a representation of a person that is exaggerated for comic effect [syn: imitation, impersonation] v : represent in or produce a caricature of; "The drawing caricatured the President" [syn: ape]

User Contributed Dictionary



From lang=fr.


  • /ˈkær.ɪ.kə.tʃʊɚ/, /"k

Extensive Definition

A caricature is either a portrait that exaggerates or distorts the essence of a person or thing to create an easily identifiable visual likeness, or in literature, a description of a person using exaggeration of some characteristics and oversimplification of others.
Caricatures can be insulting or complimentary and can serve a political purpose or be drawn solely for entertainment. Caricatures of politicians are commonly used in editorial cartoons, while caricatures of movie stars are often found in entertainment magazines.
The term is derived from the Italian caricare- to charge or load. An early definition occurs in the English doctor Sir Thomas Browne's Christian Morals (first pub.1716).
Expose not thy self by four-footed manners unto monstrous draughts, and Caricatura representations.
with the footnote —
When Men's faces are drawn with resemblance to some other Animals, the Italians call it, to be drawn in Caricatura
Thus, the word "caricature" essentially means a "loaded portrait". According to caricature teacher Sam Viviano, the term refers only to depictions of real-life people, and not to cartoon fabrications of fictional characters, which do not possess objective sets of physiognomic features to draw upon for reference, or to anthropomorphic depictions of inanimate objects such as automobiles or coffee mugs. Walt Disney on the other hand, equated his animation to caricature, saying the hardest thing to do was find the caricature of an animal that worked best as a human-like character.


Some of the earliest caricatures are found in the works of Leonardo da Vinci, who actively sought people with deformities to use as models.
The point was to offer an impression of the original which was more striking than a portrait. Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), one of the great early practitioners, was favored by the members of the papal court for his ability to depict the essence of a person in 'three or four strokes.' In fact, the word "caricature" comes from the Italian caricare, "to load", thus the caricaturist's aim is to invest his image with as much meaning as possible.
Caricature, therefore, experienced its first successes in the closed aristocratic circles of France and Italy, where the such portraits could be passed about for mutual enjoyment.
The first book on caricature drawing to be published in England was Mary Darly's A Book of Caricaturas (c. 1762). The two greatest practitioners of the art of caricature in 18th-century Britain were Thomas Rowlandson(1756-1827) and James Gillray(1757-1815). Rowlandson was more of an artist and his work took its inspiration mostly from the public at large. Gillray was more concerned with the vicious visual satirisation of political life. They were, however, great friends and caroused together in the pubs of London. See the Tate Gallery's exhibit James Gillray: The Art of Caricature

Notable caricaturists

See list of caricaturists.
George Cruikshank (1792-1878, British) created political prints that attacked the royal family and leading politicians (in 1820 he received a royal bribe of £100 for a pledge "not to caricature His Majesty (George III of the United Kingdom) in any immoral situation." He went on to create social caricatures of British life for popular publications such as The Comic Almanack (1835-1853) and Omnibus (1842). He also earned fame as a book illustrator for Charles Dickens and many other authors.
Honoré Daumier (1808-1879, French) is considered by some to be the father of caricature. During his life, he created over 4,000 lithographs, most of them caricatures on political, social and everyday themes. They were published in the daily French newspapers (Le Charivari, La Caricature etc.)
Thomas Nast (1840-1902, American) was a famous caricaturist and editorial cartoonist in the 19th century and is considered by some to be the father of American political cartooning. He is often credited with creating the definitive caricatures of the Democratic Donkey, the Republican Elephant and Santa Claus.
Al Hirschfeld (1903 – 2003, American) was best known for his simple black and white renditions of celebrities and Broadway stars which utilized flowing contour lines over heavy rendering. He was also known for depicting a variety of other famous people, from politicians musicians, singers and even television stars like the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. He has was even commissioned by the United States Postal Service to provide art for U.S. stamps. Permanent collections of Hirschfeld's work appear at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and he boasts a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
Mort Drucker (1929 - , American) Drucker joined Mad magazine in 1957 and has become well known (and revered by some) for his parodies of movies and television shows. He manages to combine a comic strip style with consistent photographic likenesses of film and TV stars panel after panel. He has also contributed covers to Time magazine. He has been recognized for his work with the National Cartoonist Society Special Features Award for 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1988, and their Reuben Award for 1987.
Robert Risko (1946 – , American) is known for his retro airbrush style. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Playboy, Vanity Fair, Esquire, and Interview.
David Levine (1926 – , American) is noted for his caricatures in the The New York Review of Books and Playboy magazine.. His first cartoons appeared in 1963. Since then he has drawn hundreds of pen-and-ink caricatures of famous writers and politicians for the newspaper.
Sam Viviano (1953 – , American) has done much work for corporations and in advertising, having contributed to Rolling Stone, Family Weekly, Reader's Digest, Consumer Reports, and Mad, of which he is currently the art director. Viviano’s caricatures are known for their wide jaws, which Viviano has explained is a result of his incorporation of side views as well as front views into his distortions of the human face. He has also developed a reputation for his ability to do crowd scenes. Explaining his twice-yearly covers for Institutional Investor magazine, Viviano has said that his upper limit is sixty caricatures in nine days.
Sebastian Krüger (1963 – , German) is known for his grotesque, yet hyper-realistic distortions of the facial features of celebrities, which he renders primarily in acrylic paint, and for which he has won praise from The Times. He is well known for his lifelike depictions of The Rolling Stones, in particular, Keith Richards. Krüger has published three collections of his works, and has a yearly art calendar from Morpheus International. Krüger's art can be seen frequently in Playboy magazine and has also been featured in the likes of Stern, L’Espresso, Penthouse, and Der Spiegel and USA Today. He has recently been working on select motion picture projects.
Hermann Mejia (Venezuelan) is known for his frequent work for MAD Magazine. Mejia uses multiple techniques for his work, sometimes rendering his illustrations in black & white ink and copious amounts of cross-hatching, sometimes using watercolor, and sometimes combinations of both
Jan Op De Beeck has published several books on caricature and was named "World's Best Caricaturist" in 2003 by a group of professional cartoonists in Iran.

Computerized caricature and formal definition of caricature

There have been efforts to produce caricatures automatically or semi-automatically using computer graphics techniques. For example provides warping tools specifically designed toward rapidly producing caricatures. There are very few software programs designed specifically for automatically creating caricatures.
An interesting aspect of some computer graphic systems is that by necessity they require quite different skillsets to caricatures created on paper. Thus using a computer in the digital production of caricatures requires advanced knowledge of the program's functionality. Rather than being a simpler method of caricature creation, it can be a more complex method of creating images that feature finer coloring textures than can be created using more traditional methods.
A milestone in formally defining caricature was Susan Brennan's master's thesis in 1982. In her system, caricature was formalized as the process of exaggerating differences from a mean face. For example, if Prince Charles has more prominent ears than the average person, in his caricature the ears will be much larger than normal. Brennan's system implemented this idea in a partially automated fashion as follows: the operator was required to input a frontal drawing of the desired person having a standardized topology (the number and ordering of lines for every face). She obtained a corresponding drawing of an average male face. Then, the particular face was caricatured simply by subtracting from the particular face the corresponding point on the mean face (the origin being placed in the middle of the face), scaling this difference by a factor larger than one, and adding the scaled difference back on to the mean face.
Though Brennan's formalization was introduced in the 1980s, it remains relevant in recent work. Mo et al. refined the idea by noting that the population variance of the feature should be taken into account. For example, the distance between the eyes varies less than other features such as the size of the nose. Thus even a small variation in the eye spacing is unusual and should be exaggerated, whereas a correspondingly small change in the nose size relative to the mean would not be unusual enough to be worthy of exaggeration. Leopold et al. found that individual face-recognizing neurons in the inferotemporal cortex respond more strongly to caricatured faces than to the veridical representations of the same face, and suggest that the visual brain may code faces relative to a prototypical face, consistent with Brennan's formalization.
Some, on the other hand, argue that caricature varies depending on the artist and cannot be captured in a single definition. Their system uses machine learning techniques to automatically learn and mimic the style of a particular caricature artist, given training data in the form of a number of face photographs and the corresponding caricatures by that artist. The results produced by computer graphic systems are arguably not yet of the same quality as those produced by human artists. For example, most systems are restricted to exactly frontal poses, whereas many or even most manually produced caricatures (and face portraits in general) choose an off-center "three-quarters" view. Brennan's caricature drawings were frontal-pose line drawings. More recent systems can produce caricatures in a variety of styles, including direct geometric distortion of photographs.
In a lecture 'The History and Art of Caricature' (Sept 2007 Queen Mary 2 Lecture theatre) the British caricaturist Ted Harrison said that the caricaturist can choose to either mock or wound the subject with an effective caricature. Drawing caricatures can simply be a form of entertainment and amusement - in which case gentle mockery is in order, or the art can be employed to make a serious social or political point. A caricaturist draws on (1) the natural characteristics of the subject (the big ears, long nose or whatever); (2) the acquired characteristics (stoop, scars, facial lines etc); and (3) the vanities (choice of hair style, spectacles, clothes, expressions and mannerisms).

The science of caricature

Caricatures have been studied in experimental psychology, with interesting results. Rhodes and collaborators compared recognition of caricatures to anticaricatures. The latter are created using the Brennan formalization but instead of exaggerating the individual differences from the mean, the individual differences are deemphasized (moved toward the mean face) by an equivalent amount. The anticaricatures were much more difficult to recognize, taking four times longer than the caricatures on average. More surprisingly, her study found that caricatures are recognized twice has fast as the default veridical (uncaricatured) drawing.
Ramachandran and Hirstein suggested that caricature is related to peak shift. In the peak shift effect, animals sometimes respond more strongly to exaggerated versions of the training stimuli. For example, if a rat is trained to respond to a rectangle of a particular aspect ratio, and to avoid a square, when later presented with several rectangles it will prefer the one with the most elongated aspect ratio (this being the one that is most different from the square) rather than the original rectangle used in training. Ramachandran and Hirstein speculated that cells in a monkey brain that respond to particular faces would respond more strongly to caricatured versions of the face. This effect has been confirmed in FMRI experiments by Tsao.


External links

caricature in Arabic: كاريكاتير
caricature in Bulgarian: Карикатура
caricature in Catalan: Caricatura
caricature in Czech: Karikatura
caricature in Danish: Karikaturtegner
caricature in German: Karikatur
caricature in Estonian: Karikatuur
caricature in Modern Greek (1453-): Γελοιογραφία
caricature in Spanish: Caricatura
caricature in Esperanto: Karikaturo
caricature in Basque: Karikatura
caricature in Persian: کاریکاتور
caricature in French: Caricature
caricature in Galician: Caricatura
caricature in Croatian: Karikatura
caricature in Ido: Karikaturo
caricature in Italian: Caricatura
caricature in Hebrew: קריקטורה
caricature in Kurdish: Xêzik
caricature in Luxembourgish: Karikatur
caricature in Hungarian: Karikatúra
caricature in Dutch: Karikatuur
caricature in Japanese: 戯画
caricature in Norwegian: Karikatur
caricature in Low German: Ökelbild
caricature in Polish: Karykatura
caricature in Portuguese: Caricatura
caricature in Romanian: Caricatură
caricature in Russian: Карикатура
caricature in Albanian: Karikatura
caricature in Slovak: Karikatúra
caricature in Slovenian: Karikatura
caricature in Serbian: Карикатура
caricature in Finnish: Pilapiirros
caricature in Swedish: Karikatyr
caricature in Tajik: Карикатура
caricature in Turkish: Karikatür
caricature in Ukrainian: Карикатура
caricature in Walloon: Caricateure
caricature in Chinese: 諷刺畫

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Atticism, aggrandize, aggrandizement, agile wit, amplification, amplify, anamorphosis, animated cartoon, bad likeness, ballyhoo, belie, big talk, black humor, blowing up, bosh, botch, build up, bunk, burlesque, camouflage, carry too far, cartoon, cheat, clinquant, color, comedy, comic book, comic strip, comics, daub, dilatation, dilation, disguise, distort, distortion, draw the longbow, dry wit, enhancement, enlargement, esprit, exaggerate, exaggerating, exaggeration, excess, exorbitance, expansion, extravagance, extreme, fake, falsify, farce, funnies, gammon, garble, go to extremes, grandiloquence, heightening, hit off on, hokum, huckstering, humor, hyperbole, hyperbolism, hyperbolize, imitation, inflation, inordinacy, irony, lampoon, laughingstock, lay it on, libel, magnification, magnify, make much of, miscolor, misquote, misreport, misrepresent, misstate, misteach, mock, mockery, moonshine, nimble wit, overcharge, overdo, overdraw, overemphasis, overestimate, overestimation, overkill, overpraise, overreach, overreact, oversell, overspeak, overstate, overstatement, overstress, parody, pasquinade, pastiche, pervert, phony, pile it on, pinchbeck, pleasantry, pretty wit, prodigality, profuseness, puff, puffery, puffing up, quick wit, ready wit, ridicule, salt, sarcasm, satire, satirize, savor of wit, scratch, scribble, send up, sensationalism, sham, shoddy, slant, slapstick, slapstick humor, spoof, squib, stretch, stretch the truth, stretching, subtle wit, superlative, take off, take off on, take-off, takeoff, talk big, talk in superlatives, tall talk, tinsel, tout, touting, travesty, twist, understate, visual humor, warp, wicked imitation, wit, wrench
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