from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The grotesque (from Italian grottesco to grotta 'cave') is an artistic stylistic device that is also used as a genre or generic term ( the grotesque) in the visual arts, literature, music and the performing arts with very different meanings depending on the epoch finds.


The Zedler Lexicon defines the grotesque 1735, based on the inadmissible freedoms of painters and poets according to Horace ( Ars poetica , approx. 15 BC), as failure to adhere to order or design principles: “Grotesque is a freedom of those who painters or sculptors to imagine something contradicting and ridiculous, or inept formations of animals, birds, half human beings, weapons, foliage and the like artificially woven through each other. ”Originally, the term does not distinguish whether the grotesque cannot or will not satisfy the“ skilful ”modes of representation or does not even know their values.

The grotesque has its origins in Renaissance art , as a term for certain ancient and modern forms of ornament derived from them. As ornaments, the grotesque , arabesque and mauresque are often related to each other or considered synonymous. They are both an expression of the exotic and the irregular, according to the standards of a Christian culture. This bizarre and imaginative element fascinated people without being able or willing to rise above the religious conventions of the time, which understood it as carnival-esque or demonic.

From the 17th century onwards, the grotesque encompassed the popular , the uncouth, and in some cases also the antiquated in the sense of the obsolete (“ gay style ”), in contrast to the formal, heavily regulated court art forms propagated by French classical music . The "expulsion of Harlequins" in the form of the tabarin or later in the so-called Hanswurst dispute stands for a modern high culture turning away from the grotesque. In the 20th century, after the end of aristocratic domination in Europe, the concept of the grotesque broke away from the popular and from its disdain (in contrast to the colloquial adjective grotesque ). It serves as a stylistic term for drastic comedy and monstrous exaggeration, for example for the exaggerated expression of expressionism . The Duden tries to attach the grotesque to certain characteristics of a work of fine art or literature: as a representation of "a distorted reality that in a paradoxically seeming way combines the horrific, the misshapen with comical features". From today's point of view, this only makes sense if such features are intended as a rule violation and not only depend on the judgment of their critics.

The work-immanent interpretation , as it was customary in literary studies after the Second World War, tried to define the grotesque as an ahistorically value-free stylistic device, such as Wolfgang Kayser ("The grotesque is a structure"). With this approach, the fact was ignored that with the label of the grotesque the socially inferior of the respective time is fixed, upgraded, or conversely, the superior is devalued to the inferior. However, Kayser was aware of the connection between the term and the viewer's assessment: "Anyone who is not familiar with the Inca culture will find some of their statues grotesque [...]". The gesture of appreciation can support the prejudice that it is about something inferior. With increasing insight into the relativity of norms , the grotesque broke away from negative connotations . In addition, the grotesque referred less to the alien (with the claim that exoticism perceives the alien as it is) than to the intentional alienation or alienation of a familiar. When it is no longer necessary to point out a difference to the prevailing norms, the grotesque loses its meaning as a concept of style.

In his more recent overview, Peter Fuß describes the grotesque as a “medium of cultural change”. The grotesque in the older, early modern sense is an expression of what is not normal or not standardized; in the modern sense it calls norms into question. “It is only when the familiar and the unfamiliar come together that the grotesque emerges,” explains Petra Mayer, referring to ETA Hoffmann . According to Dorothea Scholl, people have moved "between the sublime and the grotesque" since the Renaissance, whereby the sublime was initially still shaped by religion and has been defined by court culture since the 17th century (and courtesy was one of the most sought-after social characteristics).

Visual arts

In the fine arts , “ the grotesque ” is an ornament , related to the less figurative arabesque and the Mauresque . It consists of an area-filling network in which mythical creatures, plant elements, ribbons or vessels can be recognized, and led to characteristic decorations such as the Floris style in the High Renaissance .

"The grotesque" is occasionally generalized to a stylistic device with which the popular or popular , the ugly, obscene, comical or disproportionate are elevated to art , but it is not made a generic term . The grotesque is often related to the caricature , for example by Christoph Martin Wieland ( conversations between W * and the pastor zu * , 1775). There is talk of a grotesque, sometimes pejorative and sometimes neutral, without an art-historical location: from the allegorical figures of Hieronymus Bosch to the mythical creatures of Johann Heinrich Füssli to the “ artisms ” of the early 20th century.


The grotesque as an intentional violation of artistic norms (above all against the bienséance or propriety , but also against the vraisemblance as the expected appearance of something real or truthful) plays a special role in the appreciation of the popular in Romanticism . Friedrich Schlegel (who developed a generic term for the arabesque ), Jean Paul and ETA Hoffmann also devoted themselves to the grotesque in terms of literary theory. For the somewhat later French romanticism about Victor Hugo (who prevailed against the courtly theater in the battle for Hernani in 1830) or Théophile Gautier , it became a fashionable term. Edgar Allan Poe combined modernized vanitas motifs under the motto of the grotesque to create a popular literarization of horror ( Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque , 1840) and had to defend himself against the accusation of Germanism . Wilhelm Busch's hilarious and subtle humores unmask the seemingly idyllic aspect of something folksy. The absurd-existentialist texts by Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco add grotesque elements to a world of the ordinary and the banal. The grotesque ranges from the whimsical and strange to the ironic to the senseless and demonic. Examples of interesting characters with little social standing who are supposed to arouse disgust and pity at the same time are the bell ringer of Notre-Dame , Frankenstein's monster , the phantom of the opera, and Gollum in Tolkien's world.

Well-known authors of grotesques in the sense of the generic term include Hermann Harry Schmitz , E. T. A. Hoffmann, Fritz von Herzmanovsky-Orlando , Oskar Panizza , Nikolai Gogol , Groucho Marx and Lewis Carroll ( Alice in Wonderland , 1865). The grotesque characterizes his narrative style in all of Franz Kafka's works . For the period after 1945 Friedrich Dürrenmatt , Max Frisch , Edgar Hilsenrath and Ror Wolf should be mentioned. Collections of grotesque and surreal stories have been published under the title Weird Stories .

The Kassel Literature Prize for grotesque humor has been awarded annually since 1985 .


The term grotesque often occurs in connection with the music of the fin de siècle and is also used as a generic term for character pieces. This tendency can be observed particularly in German-speaking countries, for example with Erwin Schulhoff , Josef Matthias Hauer , Stefan Wolpe or Erich Wolfgang Korngold . In 1921, the Vienna Universal Edition published a grotesque album with piano pieces that programmatically portray a rural such as Béla Bartók's Hungarian Folk Dances op. 20 or a subcultural such as the Wurstelprater from Felix Petyrek's musical point of view . Gustav Mahler does not use the grotesque as the title or subtitle of his works, but his music is sometimes used as a prime example of grotesque compositional processes. The interruption of a historicism like that of the symphonies by Johannes Brahms by musical elements that do not appear regular or moderate because they are based on popular culture or exotic models is important for this assessment. The same applies to Franz Schreker . Other often mentioned representatives of a grotesque compositional style are György Ligeti , Arnold Schönberg and Dmitri Dmitrijewitsch Shostakowitsch .


From the later 18th century it was fashionable to equip authorities with grotesque stylistic devices which, according to the class clause, were actually reserved for the lower figures (such as the "grotesque figure of the Moor Monostatos" in Mozart's Magic Flute , 1791). Such figures in the opera include the mayor of Zaandam in Albert Lortzing's comic opera Zar und Zimmermann (1837), the figure of the schoolmaster in his Wildschütz (1842) and the figure of Falstaff in the opera of the same name (1893) by Giuseppe Verdi . Another grotesque operatic character is Kovalev's nose in Dmitri Shostakovich's opera Die Nase (1930).

Theater and dance

In the theater from the Renaissance to the French Revolution , the grotesque was synonymous with representations that did not belong to the world of the nobility , that is, which were somewhat coarser and more realistic than the ideal figures of tragedy (see class clause ). In this disqualifying sense, the characters of the Commedia dell'arte were considered grotesque. Popular pantomime (such as Der victorious Cupid , 1814) showed the grotesque in contrast to court ballet . The exotic and the rural on stage were considered grotesque, such as the Turks in Molière's comedies and in the ballets of Jean-Baptiste Lully . Johann Gottfried Kiesewetter , for example, considered the grotesque dance to be a fitting characterization of the “wild” Indians in the ballet of Spontini's opera Fernand Cortez (1800). In the 19th century, this meaning of the grotesque was increasingly transferred to the term character , as in the compositions of character dance and character role .

In the 20th century, the grotesque on the stage sometimes lost its original connection with the comic and its significance as a symbol of lower social position. It could also include the distorted in a tragic sense, as in melodrama ( blood and love , 1912, by Martin Luserke is still known ) as well as characterizing nobles and rulers such as the ox of Lerchenau in Hugo von Hofmannsthal's Der Rosenkavalier (1911) or, ins Extremely increased, King Ubu (1896) by Alfred Jarry . Arthur Schnitzler described his play The Green Cockatoo (1899) as grotesque.

The grotesque as a stylistic device of the popular " numbers " in the Singspielhalle , Varieté , Music Hall or Vaudeville was aesthetically upgraded after the First World War . From the 1920s, Valeska Gert (1892–1978) became known for her grotesque dances or pantomimes (and was posthumously awarded a star on the Cabaret Walk of Fame in 2004).

The playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt defined the grotesque in his drama theory looking back at the Second World War as the “face of a faceless world”. In a world of leveled social differences, the tragic becomes the grotesque element of comedy . George Tabori's drama Mein Kampf (1987) can also be seen in this tradition .


In the 1920s, slapstick comedies were considered "grotesque films", which meant the lower genre and the lower rated characters and actions. In the more modern sense, the term grotesque is used in sound film: According to the lexicon of film history, it can mean a “drastic contrast between the narrated world and the events of history”, stage “discordant notes and dissonances” or present “excess and abundance”. The term grotesque is often used when diegetic elements of the film are confronted or accentuated with extradiegetic elements, as in the acoustic phenomenon of slapstick.

Satirically exaggerated or absurd film comedies such as Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969–1974) are still cited as examples of the grotesque in film. The majority of films that are associated with the grotesque today are, however, not comedies: Pasolini's Die 120 Tage von Sodom (1975) has been analyzed as a “deconstruction of the cultural value system” . David Cronenberg's films are for their part close to the horror genre .


  • Otto F. Best : The grotesque in poetry . WBG , Darmstadt 1980, ISBN 3-534-06187-X .
  • Dorothea Scholl: From the “Grottesque” to the Grotesque: The Constitution of a Poetics of the Grotesque in the Italian Renaissance . LIT, Münster 2004, ISBN 3-8258-5445-0 .
  • Harald Fricke , Klaus Weimar , Klaus Grubmüller, Jan-Dirk Müller: Reallexikon der Deutschen Literaturwissenschaft: revision of the reallexikon der Deutschen Literaturgeschichte . Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 1997, ISBN 3-11-010896-8 .
  • Wolfgang Kayser : The grotesque. His creation in painting and poetry . Reprint of the first edition from 1957. Stauffenberg, Tübingen 2004.
  • Michail M. Bakhtin : Literature and Carnival. On romance theory and laughter culture . Fischer paperback, Frankfurt am Main 1996.
  • Christian W. Thomsen: The grotesque in the English novel of the 18th century , Darmstadt 1974 (with an overview of the secondary literature published according to Kayser, 1957)
  • Frederico Celestini: The disorder of things. The musical grotesque in Viennese modernism (1885-1914) . Supplements to the archive for musicology . Franz Steiner Verlag , Munich 2006, ISBN 3-515-08712-5 .
  • Bettina Wagner: Dmitri Shostakovich's opera 'The Nose' . On the problem of the category of the grotesque in music. Peter Lang Verlag , Frankfurt am Main a. a. 2003, ISBN 3-631-50154-4 .
  • Gabriele Beinhorn: The grotesque in music. Arnold Schönberg's 'Pierrot Lunaire' . Musicological studies. Volume 11. Centaurus-Verlagsgesellschaft, Pfaffenweiler 1989, ISBN 3-89085-292-0 .

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Johann Heinrich Zedler (ed.): Large, complete universal lexicon of all sciences and arts , Zedler, Halle and Leipzig 1735, vol. 11, sp. 1083.
  2. See James Luther Adams, Wilson Yates (eds.): The Grotesque in Art & Literature. Theological Reflections , Eerdmans, Cambridge 1997. ISBN 0-8028-4267-4
  3. ^ Christian Kirchmeier: Morals and Literature. A historical typology , Fink, Munich 2014, p. 237. ISBN 978-3846755723
  4. Duden : Die Groteske , online at , accessed on 19 Sep. 2018.
  5. Wolfgang Kayser: The Grotesque. His design in painting and poetry , reprint of the first edition from 1957. Stauffenberg, Tübingen 2004, p. 198.
  6. Wolfgang Kayser: Attempt to determine the essence of the grotesque , in: Ulrich Weisstein: Literatur und bildende Kunst , Schmidt, Berlin 1992, pp. 173–179, here p. 174. ISBN 3-503-03012-3
  7. Peter Fuß: The Grotesque. A medium of cultural change , Böhlau, Cologne 2001. ISBN 978-3412079017
  8. Petra Mayer: Hoffmanns poetischer Bullenbeißer - a figment of the grotesque , in: EtA Hoffmann Jahrbuch , Vol. 15, Schmidt, Berlin 2007, pp. 7–24, here p. 8. ISBN 978-3503098347
  9. Dorothea Scholl: From the “Grottesken” to the Grotesque: The Constitution of a Poetics of the Grotesque in the Italian Renaissance , Lit, Berlin 2004, p. 579. ISBN 978-3825854454
  10. Uwe Wirth (ed.): Komik. An interdisciplinary handbook , Metzler, Stuttgart 2017, p. 313. ISBN 978-3-476-02349-0
  11. Jörg Brincken: Tours de force - The aesthetics of the grotesque in the French pantomimes of the 19th century , Niemeyer, Tübingen 2006, p. 78. ISBN 978-3-484-66051-9
  12. Heiko Arntz (Ed.): Weird stories - grotesques from two centuries , Philipp Reclam jun., Stuttgart 1997, ISBN 3-15-009643-X
  13. Frederico Celestini: The Disorder of Things. The musical grotesque in Viennese modernism (1885-1914) . Supplements to the archive for musicology . Franz Steiner Verlag, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-515-08712-5 , pp. 27ff.
  14. Adolf Prosniz: Kompendium der Musikgeschichte 1750-1830 , Universal Edition, Vienna 1915, p. 143.
  15. Bettina Wagner: Dmitri Shostakovich's opera "The Nose". On the problem of the category of the grotesque in music , Lang, Frankfurt am Main 2003. ISBN 3-631-50154-4
  16. ^ Friedrich Böttger: Die Comédie-Ballet von Molière-Lully , Olms, Hildesheim 1979, p. 218. ISBN 978-3487410531
  17. ^ Johann Gottfried Kiesewetter: Journey through a part of Germany, Switzerland, Italy, southern France to Paris , 2nd part, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1816, p. 14.
  18. Friedrich Dürrenmatt: Theaterprobleme , in: Ders., Werkausgabe , Vol. 30, Diogenes, Zurich 1998, p. 62.
  19. Groteske , in: Lexikon der Filmgeschichte , Universität Kiel, URL: , accessed on 19 Sep. 2018.
  20. Article “Slapstick” in: Swiss Film Music Encyclopedia , URL: , accessed on October 24, 2018.
  21. Bojan Sarenac: The power of the grotesque. Deconstruction of the cultural value system in the film Salò or the 120 days of Sodom , Master Publishing, Hamburg 2013. ISBN 978-3955498184
  22. Bettina Papenburg: The new meat. The grotesque body in David Cronenberg's cinema , transcript, Bielefeld 2014. ISBN 978-3-8376-1740-5

Web links

Wikiversity: The Dangerous Bet  - Course Materials
Wiktionary: Grotesque  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations