The grotesque – a well of inspiration for decorative patterns

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You will find here some information about a style that everybody knows even if they can’t name it.

In the mist of time

Wherever you travel in Italy, you’ll see drawings, paintings and frescoes made in grotesque style. The Romans enjoyed this style some samples of which can be seen when you visit the ruins of the ancient Vesuvian cities. For instance, in the old city of Stabies (now, Castellammare di Stabia), a very well hidden place, or in Oplontis where I have taken these two pictures.

Decorative patterns of Oplontis and Stabies

On the left one, you can see two graceful figures dancing on a branch while on the second one, there is a creeping plant on the column which is typical as well.

What is the Grotesque Style ?

The grotesque style  mixes different kingdoms - vegetable, animal, human – which means that you can often see fantastic figures like a being with a swan neck on a woman’s breast. The female sphinx – frequent in ornemental architecture – is one of these figures. As you can see on the following pictures, you wouldn’t necessarily enjoy them. Have a look at these weird hence graceful figures.

Grotesque is on a ceiling of Palazzo Vecchio in Firenze

This grotesque is on a ceiling of Palazzo Vecchio in Firenze

Grotesque on the ceiling of a gallery in Bologna

This grotesque is on the ceiling of a gallery in Bologna. Have a look at the golden leaves.

A touch of history about the grotesque

The grotesque style has been forgotten and lost during the Middle Ages and rediscovered around the 15th century, when people randomly found the cellars of the Domus Aurea. As they had passed through a tunnel underground, they firstly thought that it was a cave (« grotta » in Italian). That’s the reason why they called this style « grotesca ».
Designers immediately came and copied all the patterns that spread all over Europe. This way, grotesque can be seen wherever we travel, from Saint-Petersbourg to Paris, Vienna, Lecce, Brussels, in short, everywhere.

Actually, the grotesque is a universal style that can be adapted in different sets of alternatives depending on your sensitivity. It can be classical as well as translated according to a more contemporary vision. That’s exactly what designers do : they recycle existing patterns…. like this one from Arte International‘s catalogue.

a 3D pattern by Arte International

a 3D pattern by Arte International

By the way, have a look at Arte International‘s awsome website.

As for me, I enjoy this subtle style. The main place where I have used it in wallpainting is the hall of my own house. My inspiration comes from Sabbioneta’s palace. Have a look at  these paintings.

a decoration inspired from the grotesque painted by patricia mignone

Is the grotesque a style you would like for you home ?

Contact me now and let’s plan our collaboration!

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