The fantasy portrayed

An ape with a club, a man with cloven feet, a pigeon in a little dress, ... Whoever takes the time to look at grotesque prints discovers a fascinating fantasy world. Freakish, bizarre and monstrous, but also caricatural and ridiculous. From 5 April to 15 September the Plantin-Moretus Museum is highlighting grotesque art, from the 16th century to the present. With prints by Hans Vredeman de Vries, Cornelis Floris, Hieronymus Bosch, Bruegel, James Ensor, Fred Bervoets, Carll Cneut and many others.

Grotesques from ‘grotto-like’ ruins

At the end of the 15th century, the underground ruins of the fabled imperial palace of Nero were rediscovered in Rome: the Domus Aurea. Curious visitors found colourful murals on the walls, with lavish, symmetrical decorations. A rich array of bizarre animals and mythical creatures could be found incorporated. These decorations would go down in history as 'grotesques' (or grottoesque) due to the finds being discovered in 'grotto-like' ruins.

Exceptional sixteenth-century art

Ever since their discovery and especially during the Renaissance, these antique grotesques have inspired artists. Hans Vredeman de Vries and Cornelis Floris introduced this exuberant and imaginative ornamentational style to the Netherlands through their printmaking. Thanks to their printed designs with endless variations, they spread grotesque ornamentation to other art branches. Grotesques soon found their way into painting, architecture, precious metalworking, glass painting and book printing.

The 'capricious' as a source of inspiration

Today we still connect 'grotesque' to the capricious, bizarre and monstrous, but also the caricatural and ridiculous. It is a source of inspiration for numerous artists. In sixteenth-century Netherlands, Bosch and Bruegel were the great pioneers with their printed 'drôleries'. Modern and contemporary artists follow in their footsteps and works by James Ensor, Fred Bervoets and René De Coninck show that the attraction of the grotesque still lives on in art.

The exposition

In the exposition Grotesques you will discover prints by Vredeman de Vries and Frans Floris, an exceptional series of sixteenth-century design drawings by Paul Vredeman de Vries and prints from Bosch, Bruegel, Ensor and others, through to Bervoets and De Coninck.

The Print Room of the Museum Plantin-Moretus

The Print Room houses a wealth of prints and drawings from the 16th century to the present day. Through presentations, the public can get to know different aspects of this rich collection. The exposition is an example of this.

Nadia De Vree

Perscoördinator Musea en Erfgoed Antwerpen, Stad Antwerpen

About Museum Plantin-Moretus

The Museum Plantin-Moretus is the residential house of the Plantin-Moretus family which contains the publishing house – printing press. The oldest printing presses in the world are here. They bear witness to the first industrial distribution of knowledge and image. The rich art collection is located in the historical residence, including paintings from family friend Peter Paul Rubens. The residence as well as the printing establishment is on UNESCO’s prestigious World Heritage list.

The museum in images