What artists spring to mind when you think of funny art: Salvador Dail? Perhaps, Jeff Koons? You may not realise it but the surrealists and pop artists were not the first to explore humour in art, you can go back centuries and find some magnificent examples.
At ChattyFeet, we had a little delve into art history and found some funny artworks that have humour at their core. We found laughter captured in old masterpieces, optical illusions that plug into your subconscious and wonderful examples of satire.
Guiseppe Bertumnus: "Vertumnus"
Viewed from a distance, this fascinating portrait may seem like a beautiful Renaissance work - but don’t be fooled, close up you will see that this human head is actually made up of fruits, vegetables, flowers and other organic materials. Guiseppe Bertumnus, who painted the above portrait of Rudolf II in 1591, inspired Pablo Picasso in the 20th Century. Guiseppe was often referred to as the “Grandfather of Surrealism”.
Whilst Surrealism wasn’t founded until 1924, this work and others by him explore similar ideas to surrealists like Salvador Dali. The visual confusion of seeing both a face and individual vegetables has a dream-like quality and taps in to our unconscious mind. The skill and draftsmanship in the work are evident and his bizarre, conceptual humour shows him to be way ahead of his time.
Gerard van Honthorst: "The Happy Violinist"
Like a modern day theatrical photo, this jovial painting captures a moment of laughter that can transport the viewer back in time to share the joke. The “Happy Violinist” has stopped playing to, presumably, celebrate his performance with a drink.
Well known for his skill in painting artificially lit scenes, Dutch painter Gerard van Honthorst made this piece in the 1620s after being heavily influenced by Caravaggio.
“The Happy Violinist” is also considered to be an allegory of the senses, in this case, taste. The five senses were a subject explored by Dutch contemporary Bruegel around the same period.
Eugène Bataille: "La Joconde fumant la pipe, Le Rire"
A great example of satirical humour is Eugène Bataille's jokey version of the Mona Lisa smoking a pipe. It introduces a theme of gender reversal that was later explored by Marcel Duchamp, when he parodied the Mona Lisa with Salvador Dali-style moustache.
Made in 1887 and titled: La Joconde fumant la pipe, Le Rire, it translates as: “The Mona Lisa smoking a pipe, laughter”. The Mona Lisa was famous for her enigmatic smile and beauty, it is funny to tease the painting with giving her a manly quality and suggesting laughter rather than the serenity of her smile.
We’ve discovered that even old masters liked to poke fun at their subjects to help us better understand the world and how we can just add that little bit more happiness to it. So next time you see Mona Lisa or any other artwork, you can try to imagine what would a more humorous version look like...