At its most fundmental level, caricature is counter-art. In Renaissance Italy notable painters such as Leonardo da Vinci and the Carracci brothers undertook their studies of the grotesque in order to better understand the emerging aesthetic ideals of beauty, proportion, and composition. Over time, their systematic production of idealized portrait after idealized portrait led to the establishment of these conventional ideals; during this period the inevitable reaction to these ideals emerged in the caricatura.
The caricatura was often a brief sketch of the painter's subject which attempted to convey messages beyond the traditional portrait. Drawing from their studies of the grotesque,
the artists transformed physical attributes into easily-recognizable symbols of character; physiognomy was emphasized in this meduim as certain elements of a caricature came to stand for moral or ideological types. The establishment of these visual associations in the public's mind became a fundamental elemt of the caricature, as the object of ridicule was more easliy understood-- and therefore more successful-- if it conformed to the particular tenets of humor.
As time passed the idea of the caricatura moved North and was given additional significance. German and British artists felt less compelled to honor the basic concepts of reality, often combining their subjects with phantastic situations and appurtenances. Furthermore, the caricature became less of a light-hearted parody of the subject, and became more of an instrument of social criticism.
The Development of