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A caricature is a humorous illustration that exaggerates or distorts the basic essence of a person or thing to create an easily identifiable visual likeness.

Caricature of Alan Greenspan by Jan Op De Beeck

Although caricatures can be made of inanimate objects such as carss or buildings, the art form is usually reserved for illustrations of people, especially celebrities and politicians.

Caricatures can be insulting or complimentary and can serve a political purpose or be drawn solely for entertainment. Caricatures of politicians are commonly used in editorial cartoons, while caricatures of movie stars are often found in entertainment magazines.

The art form was popularized in the early 18th century, when satirical drawings of politicians and local celebrities would be printed in newspapers. Caricatures would often be less than warmly received by their powerful targets, and for many years the art form was one of anonymous mischief.

In the years after World War I the art form experienced a renaissance in the United States, and in some magazines caricatures became more common and in higher demand than actual photographs. A new wave of artists like Al Hirschfeld and Miguel Covarrubias showed that caricatures could be fun, colorful, and graceful, and not always the crude, vicious insults found on the editorial page. In the UK Punch magazine kept the tradition alive through the 1950 to 1980 period. The cartoonist Steve Bell maintained the tradition thereafter to great effect. The puppet show "Spitting Image" on British television during the 1980s brought an awareness of caricature to a new generation, combining rod-operated puppets with accurate vocal impressions. Politicians, media stars and sporting celebrities remained the main targets and the grey finish of a much used John Major puppet played a very significant role in establishing his unadventurous public image in the UK.

Today, the art of caricature is still around, though nowhere near as prevalent as the "Golden Age" of the 20's and 30's. In recent years there has been a rise of amateur "On-the-spot Caricaturists" who can be found on street corners or fairs and will draw a quick sketch of anyone willing to pay their fee. The word "caricature" can also apply to a person or thing that displays behaviour or mannerisms that are ridiculously exaggerated and overly stereotypical.

An early definition of the origins of 'caricature', an Italian word word meaning 'to load', occurs in the English doctor Sir Thomas Browne's Christian Morals (first pub.1716)

''Expose not thy self by four-footed manners unto monstrous draughts, and Caricatura representations.

with the foot-note -

When Mens faces are drawn with resemblance to some other Animals, the Italians call it, to be drawn in Caricatura.

See also: Caricaturist, Cartoon, Satire