Muse Science Magazine for Kids|January 2022
Exploring the Many Faces of Caricature
Kristina Lyn Heitkamp

A painter, a psychologist, and a policeman all walk into a carnival. They ask the cotton-candy man where they should go for a good laugh. He looks to the ring toss and then the fun house and shakes his head. Finally, he points to the caricaturist creating a portrait showing a woman with abnormally gigantic front teeth, chomping on a carrot.

Caricatures are drawings that make someone look funny or foolish by exaggerating their appearance or character. The word caricature comes from the Italian word caricare, which means "to load," but it can also indicate exaggeration. These visual jokes on a page became popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, but examples of caricatures can be found as far back as ancient Egyptian art.

Today, the uncanny portraits appear on magazine covers and postage stamps. They turn up on oceanfront boardwalks and in art galleries. Caricatures incite a giggle or a blush, but the funny faces have a rich history. And they're being used in cool-and unexpected-new ways.


Painter, inventor, and scientist Leonardo da Vinci loved to study the human form. He especially treasured the most curious-looking people he 5 saw on the streets of Italian cities in the 15th and 16th centuries. If he saw an interesting face, whether young and beardless or hairy and old, he might follow the person around all day long, memorizing their features. With the images tucked inside his brain, he would return home to turn what he'd seen into “monstrous faces" the phrase he used to describe his collection of caricatures.

Another artist, Claude Monet, also created a series of caricatures. In 1855, at 15 years old, Monet sketched charcoal portraits of the locals of his coastal town of Le Havre in France. He charged 10 to 20 francs per picture. Artists have also played with the power and influence of visual jokes. In the 19th century, caricatures took on politics and social commentary.


President Abraham Lincoln reportedly called Thomas Nast the best recruiting agent for the Union when his sketches roused citizens to join the Civil War. Often called "the father of American cartoons," Nast used caricature to critique slavery and political corruption. His parodies were a powerful communication tool during a time when some of society could not read.

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