Magnificent World of the Grotesque
The exhibition in the Alexander Hall of the Winter Palace (Room No. 282)
shows over 150 objects of applied art and arms from the Hermitage collection
attesting to the "triumphant progress" of a popular Renaissance
4 February, 2003 - 13 April, 2003
The 16th century is called the golden age of grotesque. It flourished in antiquity but was subsequently abandoned. Its renascence and name were due to excavations of ancient Roman buildings called grottos.
Grotesque style changed several times during the 16th century. Its initial "candelabra" variant consisted of birds, griffins, dolphins, allegorical figures, mascarons, Roman stone altars, writing tablets and decorative disks centered around a vertical rod. Fantastic creatures were gradually added to the ornamentation as it was becoming less static (compositions of Nicoletto da Modena and Agostino Veneziano). In the 16th century mannerism became strongly felt in grotesque. The style became weightless and airy. Due to prints which copied ornamental compositions grotesque spread throughout Europe.
Italian majolica was especially bright. Petty design on wide flat boards against blue background was used in Faenza. In Siena, big forms of picturesque grotesque covering all space prevailed. Masters from Urbino created small grotesque ornaments against milky background. In French enamels, grotesques were put on boards of the plate front side and covered all of the back side. The oval dish by Pierre Raymond with an ornamental composition on the reverse is one of the most remarkable pieces in the exhibit. Arms were also decorated with grotesque. It was engraved on armory or chased on helmets and shields. In firearms, ornaments were encrusted on wooden parts. Some of exhibits belonged to famous personalities. The prayer book decorated with precious stones was owned by Danish King Christian IV, majolica tableware adorned the palace of Duke Guidobaldo II, armory was the wedding gift to the Duke of Brunswick. Some exhibits bear coats-of-arms of royalties such as Cardinal Farnese, families of Colonna and Barberini and Duke dEpine.
To decorate furniture, grotesques were used in carving and encrustation. Ornaments were carved on chest panels, wardrobe and cupboard sides and pilasters. Intarsia and encrustation loaned polychrome brightness.
Due to grotesque, purely ornamental genre became isolated in West European tapestries. The exhibition shows three 16th century Seasons tapestries. Ornamentation was executed in the form of colorful appliques or monochromic white threads (filet technique) or yet reliefs from silver, gilt or silk threads.
In silverware, grotesque design decorates dishes, cups and goblets. Masters also applied their talents to casks, small cabinets, clocks and chess-men. In jewelry, pendants and carved vases from hard stone bear these ornaments.
Crimson band with depictions of griphons and birds
Late 16th-early 17th century
Plate featuring large grotesques
Dish with a depictio of Joshua Stopping the Sun in its Course