Terms

Abacus

A slab of stone at the top of a Classical capital just beneath the architrave.


Aeolic

An early style of Greek architecture, found in northwestern Asia Minor; the Aeolic style is often considered a precursor to the Ionic style.


Aisle

The passageway or corridor of a church that runs parallel to the length of the building; it often flanks the nave of the church but is sometimes set off from it by rows of piers or columns.


Alabastron

A perfume container, similar to an aryballos, crafted by Greek vase-painters and often imported into Etruria.


Allegory

A representation in which figures or events stand for ideas beyond themselves as symbols or metaphors, to create a moral or message for the viewer.


Altar

A mound or structure on which sacrifices or offerings are made in the worship of a deity.


Altarpiece

A painted or carved work of art placed behind and above the altar of a Christian Church; it may be a single panel or a triptych or a polyptych, both having hinged wings painted on both sides; also called a reredos or retablo.


Ambulatory

A covered walkway; (1) in a basilican church, the semicircular passage around the apse; (2) in a central-plan church, the ring shaped aisle around the central space.


Andachstbild

German for “devotional image,” a picture or sculpture with imagery intended for private devotion; it was first developed in Northern Europe.


Animal style

A style that appears to have originated in ancient Iran and is characterized by stylized or abstracted images of animals.


Annular

From the Latin word “ring”; signifies a ring-shaped form, especially an annular barrel vault.


Apotropaic device

An object deployed as a means of warding off evil. Often a figural image (such as device a Medusa head) or a composite image (like a Near Eastern lamassu), inserted into an architectural setting.


Apse

A semicircular or polygonal niche terminating one or both ends of the nave in a Roman basilica; in a Christian church, it is usually placed at the east end of the nave beyond the transept or choir; it is also sometimes used at the end of transept arms.


Apsidiole

A small apse or chapel connected to the main apse of a church.


Arcade

A series of arches supported by piers or columns; when attached to a wall, these form a blind arcade.


Arch

A curved structure used to span an opening. Masonry arches are generally built of wedge-shaped blocks, called voussoirs, set with their narrow sides toward the opening so that they lock together. The topmost voussoir is called the keystone. Arches may take different shapes, such as the pointed Gothic arch or the rounded Classical arch.


Archaic smile

A fixed, unnaturalistic smile characteristic of many archaic Greek sculpted images; artists ceased to depict figures smiling in this way once they began to explore greater naturalism.


Architrave

The lowermost member of a classical entablature, such as a series of stone blocks that rest directly on the columns.


Archivolt

A molded band framing an arch, or a series of such bands framing a tympanum, often decorated with sculpture.


Arcuation

The use of arches or a series of arches in building.


Aryballos

A perfume jar, generally small in size, and often minutely decorated; this was a favorite type of vessel for Corinthian vase-painters.


Ashlar masonry

Carefully finished stone that is set in fine joints to create an even surface.


Atmospheric perspective

Creates the illusion of depth by reducing the local color and clarity of objects in the distance, to imply a layer of atmosphere between the viewer and the horizon.


Atrium

An open court, sometimes colonnaded or arcaded, in front of a church.


Baldacchino

A canopy usually built over an altar; the most import one is Bernini’s construction for St. Peter’s in Rome.


Barrel vault

A vault formed by a continuous semicircular arch so that it is shaped like a half-cylinder.


Bas-de-page

Literally “bottom of the page,” an illustration or decoration that is placed below a block of text in an illuminated manuscript.


Basilica

(1) In ancient Roman architecture, a large, oblong building used as a public meeting place and hall of justice; it generally includes a nave, side aisles, and one or more apses (2) In Christian architecture, a longitudinal church derived from the Roman basilica and having a nave, an apse, two or four side aisles or side chapels, and sometimes a narthex; (3) any one of the seven original churches of Rome or other churches accorded the same religious privileges.


Battlement

A parapet consisting of alternating solid parts and open spaces designed originally for defense and later used for decoration.


Bay

A subdivision of the interior space of a building; usually a series of bays is formed by consecutive architectural supports.


Belvedere

A structure made for the purpose of viewing the surroundings, either above the roof of a building or free-standing in a garden or other natural setting.


Black-figured

A style of ancient Greek pottery decoration characterized by black figures against a red background; the black-figured style preceded the red-figured style.


Blind arcade

An arcade with no openings. The arches and supports are attached decoratively to the surface of a wall.


Block books

Books, often religious, of the 15th century containing woodcut prints in which picture and text were usually cut into the same block.


Book of Hours

A private prayer book containing the devotions for the seven canonical hours of the Roman Catholic churn (matins, vespers, etc.), liturgies for local saints, and sometimes a calendar; they were often elaborately illuminated for persons of high rank, whose names are attached to certain examples.


Buon fresco

Italian word for “fresh,” the technique of painting on plaster with pigments ground in water so that the paint is absorbed by the plaster and becomes part of the wall itself; buon fresco is the technique of painting on wet plaster; fresco secco is the technique of painting on dry plaster.


Burin

A point metal tool with a wedged-shaped tip used for engraving.


Buttress

A projecting support built against an external wall, usually to counteract the lateral thrust of a vault or arch within.


Cames

Strips of lead in stained-glass windows that hold the pieces of glass together.


Campanile

From the Italian word campana, meaning “bell”; a bell tower that is either round or square and is sometimes free-standing.


Capital

The uppermost member of a column or pillar supporting the architrave.


Caravansaray

A wayside inn along the main caravan routes linking the cities of Asia Minor, usually containing a warehouse, stables and a courtyard.


Caryatid

A sculpted female figure used in place of a column as an architectural support; a similar male figure is an atlas.


Case mate

A chamber of compartment within a fortified wall, usually used for the storage of artillery and munitions.


Cassone

An Italian dowry chest often highly decorated with carvings, paintings, inlaid designs, and gilt embellishments.


Cathedral

The church of a bishop, his administrative headquarters; the location of his cathedra or throne.


Cavea

The seating area in an ancient theater; in a Greek theater, it was just over semicircular; in a Roman theater, it was semicircular; access corridors divided the seating into wedges (cunei).


Cella

The principle enclosed room of a temple used to house an image; or, the entire body of a temple as distinct from its external parts.


Cenotaph

A memorial monument to honor a person or persons whose remains lie elsewhere.


Centering

A wooden framework built to support an arch, vault, or dome during its construction.


Champlevé

An enameling method in which hollows are etched into a metal surface and filled with enamel.


Chancel

The area of a church around the altar, sometimes set off by a screen; it is used by the clergy and choir.


Chiastic pose

Italian word for “set against”; a composition developed by the Greeks to represent movement in a figure; the parts of the body are placed asymmetrically in opposition to each other around a central axis, and careful attention is paid to the distribution of weight.


Chrystelephantine

Usually referring to a sculpture in Classical Greece, signifying that it is made of gold and ivory; Pheidias’ cult statues of Athena in the Parthenon, and Eus at Olympia, were chryselephantine.


Classicism

Art or architecture that harkens back to and relies upon the style and canons of the art and architecture of ancient Greece or Roman, which emphasize certain standards of balance, order, and beauty.


Classicizing

To refer to the forms and ideals of the Classical world, principally Greece and Rome.


Clerestory

A row of windows in the upper part of a wall that rises above an adjoining roof; its purpose is to provide direct lighting, as in a basilica or church.


Cloisonné

An enameling method in which the hollows created by wires joined to a metal plate are filled with enamel to create a design.


Cloister

(1) A place of religious seclusion such as a monastery or nunnery; (2) an open court attached to a church or monastery and surrounded by an ambulatory; used for study, meditation and exercise.


Coffer

A recessed, geometrically shaped panel in a ceiling; a ceiling decorated with these panels is said to be coffered.


Colonnette

A small, often decorative, column that is connected to a wall or pier.


Colophan

(1) The production information given at the end of a book; (2) the printed emblem of a book’s publisher.


Colossal order

Columns, piers, or pilasters in the shape of the Greek or Roman orders but that extend through two or more stories rather than following the Classical proportions.


Composite capital

A capital that combines the volutes of an Ionic capital with the acanthus leaves of the Corinthian capital; Roman architects developed the style as a substitute for the Ionic style, for use on secular buildings.


Composite image

An image formed by combining different images or different views of the subject.


Compound pier

A pier with attached pilasters or shafts.


Continuous narration

Portrayal of the same figure or character at different stages in a story that is narration depicted in a single artistic space.


Corbel

(1) A bracket that projects from a wall to aid in supporting weight; (2) the projection of one course, or horizontal row, of a building material beyond the course below it.


Corbel vault

A vault formed by progressively projecting courses of stone or brick, which eventually meet to form the highest point of the vault.


Corinthian capital

A column capital ornamented with acanthus leaves, introduced in Greece in the late fifth century BCE and used by Roman architects throughout the Empire.


Cornice

(1) The projecting, framing members of a classical pediment, including the horizontal one beneath and the two sloping of “raking” ones above (2) the projection of one course, or horizontal row, of a building material beyond the course below it.


Corpus

In carved medieval altarpieces, the corpus is the central section which usually holds a sculpted figure or design.


Crenelation

A sequence of solid parts, and the intervals between them, along the top of a parapet, allowing for define and to facilitate firing weapons; the effect is of a notched termination of a wall; generally used in military architecture.


Crypt

A space, usually vaulted, in a church that sometimes causes the floor of the choir to be raised above that of the nave; often used as a place for tombs and small chapels.


Cubiculum

A bedroom in a Roman house; a cubiculum usually opened onto the atrium; most were small and some contained wall-paintings.


Cunei

A wedge-like group of seats in a Greek or Roman theater.


Cuneiform

The wedge-shaped characters made in clay by the ancient Mesopotamians as a writing system.


Dado

The lower part of an interior wall; in a Roman house, the dado was often decorated with paintings imitating costly marbles.


Dikka

An elevated, flat-topped platform in a mosque used by the muezzin or cantor.


Dipteral

Term used to describe a Greek or Roman building—often a temple or a stoa—with a double colonnade.


Diptych

A pair of ivory carvings or panel paintings, usually hinged together.


Dolmen

A structure formed by two or more large, upright stones capped by a horizontal slab, thought to be a prehistoric tomb.


Dome

A true dome is a vaulted roof of circular, polygonal, or elliptical plan, formed with hemispherical or ovoidal curvature; may be supported by a circular wall or drum and by pendentives or related constructions; domical coverings of many other sorts have been devised.


Doric column

A column characterized by a simple cushion-like abacus and the absence of a base; one of three styles of column consistently use by Greek and Roman architects.


Drôlerie

French word for “jests”; used to describe the lively animals and small figures in the margins of late medieval manuscripts and in wood carvings on furniture.


Dromos

A pathway, found, for instance, in Bronze Age, Aegean and Etruscan tomb structures.


Drum

(1) A section of the shaft of a column; (2) a circular-shaped wall supporting a dome.


Early English style

A term used to describe Gothic architecture in England during the early-and mid-13th century; the style demonstrates the influence of architectural features developed during the Early Gothic period in France, which are combined with Anglo-Norman Romanesque features.


Echinus

In the Doric or Tuscan Order, the round, cushion like element between the top of the shaft and the abacus.


Encaustic

A technique of painting with pigments dissolved in hot wax.


Engaged column

A column that is joined to a wall, usually appearing as a half-rounded vertical shape.


Engraving

(1) A means of embellishing metal surfaces or gemstones by incising a design on the surface; (2) a print made by cutting a design into a metal plate (usually copper) with a pointed steel tool known as a burin; the burr raised on either side of the incised line is removed; ink is then rubbed into the V-shaped grooves and wiped off the surface; the plate, covered with a damp sheet of paper, is run through a heavy press; the image on the paper is the reverse of that on the plate; when a fine steel needle is used instead of a burin and the burr is retained, a dry-point engraving results, characterized by a softer line; these techniques are called, respectively, engraving and drypoint.


Enneastyle

A term used to describe the façade of a Greek or Roman temple, meaning that it has nine columns.


Entablature

(1) In a classical order, the entire structure above the columns; this usually includes architrave, frieze, and cornice. (2) the same structure in any building of a Classical style.


Entasis

A swelling of the shaft of a column.


Exedra

In Classical architecture, an alcove, often semicircular, and often defined with columns; sometimes, exedrae framed sculptures.


Faience

A glass paste fired to a shiny opaque finish, used in Egypt and the Aegean.


Fibulae

A clasp, buckle, or brooch, often ornamented.


Flamboyant

Literally meaning “flamelike” in French, describes a late phase of Gothic architecture where undulating curves and reverse curves were a main feature.


Flute

The vertical channels or grooves in Classical column shafts, sometimes thought to imitate the faceting of a hewn log.


Flying buttress

An arch or series of arches on the exterior of a building, connecting the building to detached pier buttresses so that the thrust from the roof vaults is offset.


Foreshortening

A method of reducing or distorting the parts of a represented object that are not parallel to the picture plane in order to convey the impression of three dimensions as perceived by the human eye.


Frieze

A continuos band of painted or sculptured decoration.


Frontality

Representation of a subject in a full frontal view.


Gable

(1) The triangular area framed by the cornice or eaves of a building and the sloping sides of a pitched roof; in Classical architecture, it is called a pediment; (2) a decorative element of similar shape, such as the triangular structures above the portals of a Gothic church and sometimes at the tope of a Gothic picture frame.


Gallery

A second story placed over the side aisles of a church and below the clerestory; in a church with a four-part elevation, it is placed below the triforium and above the nave arcade.


Geison

A projecting horizontal cornice; on a Greek or Roman temple, the geison will often be decorated.


Geometric arabesque

Complex patterns and designs usually composed of polygonal geometric forms, rather than organic flowing shapes; often used as ornamentation in Islamic art.


Glaze

A thin layer of translucent oil color applied to a painted surface or to parts of it in order to modify the tone; or, a glassy coating applied to a piece of ceramic work before firing in the kiln as a protective seal and often as decoration.


Glazed brick

Brick that is baked in a kiln after being painted.


Gothic

A style of art developed in France during the 12th century that oread throughout Europe; the style is characterized by daring architectural achievements, for example, the opening up of wall surfaces and the reaching of great heights, particularly in cathedral constructions; pointed arches and ribbed groin vaults allow for a lightness of construction that permits maximum light to enter buildings through stained-glass windows; increasing naturalism and elegance characterize Gothic sculpture and painting.


Greek cross

A cross with four arms of equal length arranged at right angles.


Grisaille

A monochrome drawing or painting in which only values of black, gray and white are used.


Grisaille glass

White glass painted with gray designs.


Groin vault

A vault formed by the intersection of two barrel vaults at right angles to each other; a groin vault is the ridge resulting from the intersection of two vaults.


Guild

Economic and social organizations that control the making and marketing of given products in a medieval city; to work as a painter or sculptor in a city, an individual had to belong to a guild, which established standards for the craft.


Guttae

In a Doric entablature, small peg like projections above the frieze; possibly derived from pegs originally used in wooden construction.


Hall Church (Hallenkirche)

A church in which the nave and the side aisles are of the same height; the type was developed in Romanesque architecture and occurs especially frequently in German Gothic churches.


Han

In Turkish, an establishment where travelers can procure lodging, food and drink.


Harmony

In medieval architecture, the perfect relationship among parts in terms of mathematical proportions or ratios; thought to be the source of all beauty, since it exemplifies the laws by which divine reason made the universe.


Hatayi

A style of ornament originated by the Ottomans and characterized by curved leaves and complex floral palmettes linked by vines, come times embellished with birds or animals.


Hatching

A series of parallel lines used as shading in prints and drawings; when two sets of parallel lines are used, it is called crosshatching.


Heraldic pose

A pose where two figures are mirror images of one another, sometimes flanking a central object, as in the relieving triangle above the Lioness Gate at Mycenae.


Heroön

The center of a hero cult, where Classical Greeks venerated mythological or historical heroes.


Hexastyle

A term used to describe the façade of a Greek or Roman temple, meaning that it has six columns.


Hieratic scale

An artistic technique in which the importance of figures is indicated by size, so that the most important figure is depicted as the largest.


Hieroglyphs

A symbol, often based on a figure, animal, or object, standing for a word, syllable, or sound; they form the early Egyptian writing system, and are found on ancient Egyptian monument as well as in Egyptian written records.


Humanism

A philosophy emphasizing the worth of the individual, the rational abilities of humankind, and the human potential for good; during the Italian Renaissance, humanism was part of a movement that encouraged study of the classical cultures of Greece and Rome; often it came into conflict with the doctrines of the Catholic church.


Hydria

A type of jar used by ancient Greeks to carry water; some examples were highly decorated.


Hypostyle

A hall whose roof is supported by columns.


Icon

From the Greek word “image”; a panel painting of one or more sacred personages, such as Christ, the Virgin, or a saint, particularly venerated in the Orthodox Christian church.


Iconoclasm

The Doctrine of the Christian church in the 8th and 9th centuries that forbade the worship or production of religious images; this doctrine led to the destruction f many works of art; the iconoclastic controversy over the validity of this doctrine led to a division of the Church; Protestant churches of the 16th and 17th centuries also practiced iconoclasm.


Iconography

(1) The depicting of images in art in order to convey certain meanings; (2) the study of the meaning of images depicted in art, whether they be inanimate objects, events, or personages; (3) the content or subject matter of a work of art.


Impasto

From the Italian word meaning “to make into paste”; it describes paint, usually oil paint, applied very thickly.


Impluvium

A shallow pool in a Roman house, for collecting rain water; the impluvium was usually in the atrium, and stood beneath a large opening in the roof, known as a compluvium.


Infrared light

Light on the spectrum beyond the comprehension of the naked eye is referred to as infrared; special filters are needed to perceive it.


Infrared reflectography

A technique for scientifically examining works of art; special cameras equipped with infrared filters can look below the top layer of paintings to record the darker materials, such as carbon, which artists used to create drawings on panels or other supports.


Inlaid niello

Dark metal alloys applied to the engraved lines in a precious metal plate (usually made of gold or silver) to create a design.


Insula

Latin word for “island” (1) an ancient Roman city block; (2) a Roman “apartment house”: a concrete and brick building or chain of buildings around a central court, up to five stories high; the ground floor had shops, and a voce were living quarters.


Intaglio

A printing technique in which the design is formed from ink-filled lines cut into a surface; engraving, etching, and drypoint are examples of intaglio.


Intercolumniation

The space between two columns, measured from the edge of the column shafts; the term is often used in describing Greek and Roman temples.


Ionic column

A column characterized by a base and a capital with two volutes; one of three styles of column consistently used by Greek and Roman architects.


Iwan

A caulted chamber in a mosque or other Islamic structure, open on one side and usually opening onto an interior courtyard.


Kore

Greek word for “maiden”; an Archaic Greek statue of a standing, draped female.


Kouros

Greek word for “male youth”; an Archaic Greek statue of a standing, nude youth.


Krater

A Greek vessel, of assorted shapes, in which wine and water are mixed.


Kufic

One of the first general forms of Arabic script to be developed, distinguished by its angularity; distinctive variants occur in various parts of the Islamic worlds.


Kylyx

In Greek and Roman antiquity, a shallow drinking cup with two horizontal handles, often set on a stem terminating in a foot.


Lancet

A tall, pointed window common in Gothic architecture.


Lantern

A relatively small structure crowning a dome, roof, or tower, frequently open to admit light to an enclosed area below.


Lekythos

A Greek oil jug with an ellipsoidal body, a narrow neck, a flanged mouth, a curved handle extending from below the lip to the shoulder, and a narrow base terminating in a foot; it was used chiefly ointments and funerary offerings.


Light well

Open shafts that allow light to penetrate into a building from the roof; these were a major source of light and ventilation in Minoan “palaces”.


Liminal space

A transitional area, such as a doorway or archway; in Roman architecture, liminal spaces were often decorated apotropaic devices.


Liturgy

A body of rites or rituals prescribed for public worship.


Loggia

A covered gallery or arcade open to the air on at least one side; it may stand alone or be part of a building.


Lunette

(1) A semicircular or pointed wall area, as under a vault, or above a door or window; when it is above the portal of a medieval church, it is called a tympanum (2) a painting, relief sculpture, or window of the same shape.


Luster

A metallic pigment fired over glazed ceramic, which creates an iridescent effect.


Machicolation

A gallery projecting from the walls of a castle or tower with holes in the floor in order to allow liquid, stones, or other projectiles to be dropped on an enemy.


Maidan

In parts of the Near East and Asia, a large open space or square.


Manuscript illumination

Decoration of handwritten documents, scrolls, or books with drawings or paintings; illuminated manuscripts were often produced in the Middle Ages.


Maqsura

A screened enclosure, reserved for the ruler, often located before the mihrab in certain important royal Islamic mosques.


Mastaba

An ancient Egyptian tomb, rectangular in shape, with sloping sides and a flat roof; it covered a chapel for offerings and a shaft to the burial chamber.


Matrix

(1) A mold or die used for shaping a ceramic object before casting; (2) in printmaking, any surface on which an image is incised, carved, or applied and from which a print may be pulled.


Meander

A decorative motif of intricate, recliner character applied to architecture and sculpture.


Megalith

From the Greek mega, meaning “big,” and lithos, meaning “stone,” a huge stone as those used in cromlechs and dolmens.


Megaron

From the Greek word for “large,” the central audience hall in a Minoan or Mycenaean palace or home.


Menhir

A megalithic upright slab of stone, sometimes placed in rows by prehistoric peoples.


Metope

The element of a Doric frieze between two consecutive triglyphs, sometimes left plain but often decorated with paint or relief sculpture.


Mihrab

A niche, often highly decorated, usually found in the center of the quibla wall of a mosque, indicating the direction of prayer toward Mecca.


Mina’i

From the Persian meaning “enameled,” polychrome overglaze-decorated ceramic ware produced in Iran.


Minaret

A tower on or near a mosque, varying extensively in form throughout the Islamic world, from which the faithful are called to prayer five times a day.


Minbar

A type of staircase pulpit, found in more important mosques to the right of the mihrab, from which the Sabbath sermon is given on Fridays after the noonday prayer.


Miniaturist

An artist trained in the painting of miniature figures or scenes to decorate manuscripts.


Module

(1) A segment of a pattern; (2) a basic unit, such as the measure of an architectural member; multiples of the basic unit are used to determine proportionate construction of other parts of a building.


Mosque

A building used as a center for community prayers in Islamic worship; it often serves other functions including religious education and public assembly.


Mozarab

Term used for the Spanish Christian culture of the Middle Ages that developed while Muslims were the dominant culture and political power on the Iberian peninsula.


Muqarnas

A distinctive type of Islamic decoration consisting of multiple niche like forms usually arranged in superimposed rows, often used in zones of architectural transition.


Naos

(Or cella) the principal enclosed room of a temple used to house an image.


Narthex

The transverse entrance hall of a church, sometimes enclosed but often open on one side to a preceding atrium.


Naturalism

A style of art that aims to depict the natural world as it appears.


Nave

(1) The central aisle of a Roman basilica, as distinguished from the side aisles; (2) the same section of a Christian basilican church extending from the entrance to the apse or transepts.


Necropolis

Greek for “city of of the dead,” a burial ground or cemetery.


Nemes headdress

The striped cloth headdress worn by Egyptian kings, and frequently represented in their sculpted and painted images.


Niello

Dark metal alloys applied to the engraved lines in a precious metal plate (usually made of gold or silver) to create a design.


Nike

The ancient Greek goddess of victory, often identified with Athena and by the Romans with Victoria; she is usually represented as a winged woman with windblown draperies.


Nomad’s gear

Portable objects, including weaponry, tackle for horses, jewelry and vessels, crafted by nomadic groups such as the tribes of early Iran, and sometimes buried with their dead.


Obelisk

A tall, tapering, four-sided stone shaft with a pyramidal top; first constructed as megaliths in ancient Egypt, certain examples have since been exported to other.


Octastyle

A term used to describe the façade of a Greek or Roman temple, meaning that it has eight columns.


Oculus

The Latin word for “eye”; a circular opening at the top of a dome used to admit light.


Opisthonaos

A rear chamber in a Greek temple, often mirroring the porch at the front; the opisthonaos was sometimes used to house valuable objects; access to the chamber was usually from the peristyle rather than the cella.


Optical image

An image created from what the eye sees, rather than from memory.


Orant

A standing figure with arms upraised in a gesture of prayer.


Orchestra

(1) in ancient Greek theater, the round space in front of the stage and below the tiers of seats, reserved for the chorus (2) in a Roman theater, a similar space reserved for special guests.


Orthogonal

In a perspective construction, an imagined line in a painting that runs perpendicular to the picture plane and recedes to a vanishing point.


Orthostat

Upright slabs of stone constituting or lining the lowest courses of a wall, often in order to protect a vulnerable material such as mud-brick.


Palette

(1) In Egyptian art, a slate slab, usually decorated with sculpture in low relief; the small ones with a recessed circular area on one side are thought to have been used for eye makeup; the larger ones were commemorative objects; (2) the range of colors used by a particular painter.


Parchment

From Pergamemnon, the name of a Greek city where parchment paper was invented in the 2nd century BCE; (1) a paper-like material made from bleached animal hides used extensively in the Middle Ages for manuscripts; Vellum is a superior type of parchment made from calfskin; (2) a document or miniature on this material.


Pediment

(1) In Classical architecture, a low gable, typically triangular, framed by a horizontal cornice below and two raking cornices above, frequently filled with sculpture; (2) a similar architectural member used over a door, window, or niche; when pieces of the cornice ore either turned at an angle or interrupted, it is called a broken pediment.


Pendentive

One of the compound triangles that achieves the transition from a square or polygonal opening to the round base of a dome or the supporting drum.


Peripteral temple

In Classical architecture, a temple with a single colonnade on all sides, providing shelter.


Peristyle

A colonnade around a building or court.


Perpendicular Gothic style

Describes late Gothic architecture in England, characterized by dominant vertical accents.


Perspective

A system for representing spatial relationships and three-dimensional objects on a flat two-dimensional surface so as to produce an effect similar to that perceived by the human eye; in atmospheric or aerial perspective, this is accomplished by a gradual decrease in the intensity of color and value and in the contrast of light and dark as objects are depicted as faith and farther away in the picture; in color artwork, as objects recede into the distance, all colors tend toward a light bluish-gray tone; in scientific or linear perspective, developed in Italy in the 15th century, a mathematical system is used based on orthoganls receding to vanishing points on the horizon; transversals intersect the orthogonals at right angles at distances derived mathematically; since this presupposes an absolutely stationary viewer and imposes rigid restrictions on the artist, it is seldom applied with complete consistency; although traditionally ascribed to Brunelleschi, the first theoretical test on perspective was Leon Battista Alberti’s On Painting (1453).


Pictographs

A pictorial representation of a concept or object, frequently used by Egyptian artists, sometimes in conjunction with hieroglyphs.


Pier

An upright architectural support, usually rectangular and sometimes with capital and base; when columns, pilasters, or shafts are attached to it, as in many Romanesque and Gothic churches, it is called a compound pier.


Pietà

Italian word for both “pity” and “piety,” a representation of the Virgin grieving over the dead Christ; when used in a scene recording a specific moment after the Crucifixion, it is usually called a Lamentation.


Pile carpet

A weaving made on a loom in which rows of individual knots of colored wool are tied so that the ends of each knot protrude to form a thick pile surface.


Pilgrimage plan

The general design used in Christian churches that were stops on the pilgrimage routes throughout medieval Europe, characterized by having side aisles that allowed pilgrims to ambulate around the church.


Pinakotheke

A museum for paintings; the first known example may have been in the Propylaia on the Athenian Akropolis.


Pisé

A construction material consisting of packed earth, similar to wattle and daub; Etruscan architects used pose for houses, with the result that little survives of them.


Polis

A city-state, in the Classical Greek world; city-states began to develop in the course of the 7th and 6th centuries BCE, and were governed in a variety of different ways, including monarchy and oligarchy.


Polyptych

An altarpiece or devotional work of art made of several panels joined together, often hinged.


Portrait bust

A sculpted representation of an individual which includes not only the head but some portion of the upper torso; popular during the Roman period, it was revived during the Renaissance.


Post-and-lintel

A basic system of construction in which two or more uprights, the posts, support a horizontal member, the lintel; the lintel may be the topmost element or support a wall or roof.


Predella

The base of an altarpiece, often decorated with small scenes that are related in subject to that of the main panel or panels.


Prefiguration

The representation of Old Testament figures and stories as forerunners and foreshadowers of those in the New Testament.


Pronaos

In a Greek or Roman temple, an open vestibule in from of the naos.


Propylon

A monumental gateway, often leading into a citadel or a precinct, such as the Akropolis of Mycenae or Athens.


Protome

A decorative, protruding attachment, often on a vessel; Greek bronze-workers attached griffin-shaped pro tomes to tripod cauldrons in the 7th century BCE.


Provenance

The place of origin of a work of art and related information.


Psalter

(1) The book of Psalms in the Old Testament, thought to have been written in part by David, king of ancient Israel; (2) a copy of the Psalms, sometimes arranged for liturgical or devotional use and often richly illuminated.


Pyxis

A lidded box, often made of ivory, to hold jewelry or cosmetics in daily life, and, in the context of the Christian church, used on altars to contain the Host (Communion wafer).


Qibla

The direction toward Mecca, which Muslims face during prayer; the qibla wall in a mosque identifies this direction.


Quadrant vault

A half-barrel vault designed so that instead of bing semicircular in cross section, the arch is one-quarter of a circle.


Quatrefoil

An ornamental element composed of four lobes radiating from a common center.


Red-figured

A style of ancient Greek ceramic decoration characterized by redo figures against a black background; this style of decoration developed toward the end of the 6th century BCE and replaced the earlier black-figured style.


Register

A horizontal band containing decoration, such as a relief sculpture or a fresco painting. When multiple horizontal layers are used, registers are useful in distinguishing between different visual planes and different time periods in visual narration.


Relief

(1) The projection of a figure or part of a design from the background or plane on which it is carved or modeled; sculpture done in this manner is described as “high relief” or “low relief” depending on the height of the projection; when it is very shallow, it is called schiacciato, the Italian word for “flattened out”; (2) the apparent projection of forms represented in a painting or drawing; (3) a category of printmaking in which lines raised from the surface are inked and printed.


Relieving triangle

A space left open above a lintel to relieve it of the weight of masonry; this device was used by Bronze Age architects in gate and tomb construction.


Renaissance

Literally, rebirth; during the 14th and 15th centuries, Italian writers, artists, and intellectuals aimed to revive the arts of the ancient world; from their accomplishments, the term has been applied to the period, and is used generally to refer to a cultural flowering.


Repoussé

A metalworking technique where a design is hammered onto an object from the underlying side. Sassanian craftsmen used this technique for silver vessels.


Respond

(1) A half-pier, pilaster, or similar element projecting from a wall to support a lintel or an arch whose other side is supported by a freestanding column or pier, as at the end of an arcade; (2) one of several pilasters on a wall behind a colonnade that echoes or “responds to” the columns but is largely decorative; (3) one of the slender shafts of a compound pier in a medieval church that seems to carry the weight of the vault.


Rhyton

An ancient drinking or pouring vessel made from pottery, metal, or stone, and sometimes designed in a human or animal form.


Ribbed groin vault

A vault is a stone or brick roof; groin vaults result from the intersection of two barrel vaults; the places where the arched surfaces meet is called the groin; adding ribs or thickenings of the groins increases the strength of the roof.


Ribbed vault

A style of vault in which projecting surface arches, known as ribs, are raised along the intersections of segments of the vault; ribs may provide architectural support as well as decoration to the vault’s surface.


Rococo

The ornate, elegant style most associated with the early-18th-century in France, and which later spread throughout Europe, generally using pastel colors and decorative arts to emphasize the notion of fantasy.


Romanesque

(1) The style of medieval architecture from the 11th to 13th centuries that was based upon the Roman model and that used the Roman rounded arch, thick walls for structural support, and relatively small windows; (2) any culture or its artifacts that are “Roman-like”.


Rose window

A large circular window with stained glass and stone tracery, frequently used on façades and at the ends of transepts in Gothic churches.


Rotulus

The Latin word for scroll; a rolled written text.


Rustication

A masonry technique of laying rough-faced stones with sharply indented joints.


Sarcophugus

A large coffin, generally of stone, and often decorated with sculpture or inscriptions; the term is derived from two Greek words meaning “flesh” and “eating”.


Saz

Meaning literally “enchanted forest,” this term describes the sinuous leaves and twining stems that are a major component of the hatayi style under the Ottoman Turks.


Schiacciato

Italian word for “flattened out”; describes low relief sculpture used by Donatello and some of his contemporaries.


Scholasticism

A school of Medieval thought that tries to reconcile faith and reason by combining ancient philosophy with Christian theology.


Scientific perspective

Or linear, developed in Italy in the 15th century, a mathematical system is used based on orthogonals receding to vanishing points on the horizon; transversals intersect the orthogonals at right angles at distances derived mathematically; since this presupposes an absolutely stationary viewer and imposes rigid restrictions on the artist; it is seldom applied with complete consistency; although traditionally ascribed to Brunelleschi, the first theoretical text on perspective was Leon Battista Alberti’s On Painting (1435).


Scriptorium

Literally “a place for writing”, is commonly used to refer to a room in medieval European monasteries devoted to the writing, copying and illuminating of manuscripts by monastic scribes.


Section

An architectural drawing presenting a building as if cut across the vertical plane at right angles to the horizontal plane; a cross section is a cut along the transverse axis; a longitudinal section is a cut along the longitudinal axis.


Septpartite vault

Vault whose web is divided by ribs into seven parts.


Serdab

In Egyptian architecture, an enclosed room without an entrance, often found in a funerary context; a sculpture of the dead king might be found enclosed within it, as at Saqqara.


Sexpartite vault

Vault whose web is divided by ribs into six parts.


Sgraffito ornament

A decorative technique in which a design is made by scratching away the surface layer of a material to produce a form in contrasting colors.


Shading

The modulation of volume by means of contrasting light and shade; prehistoric cave-painters used this device, as did Greek tomb-painters in the Hellenistic period.


Silverpoint

A drawing instrument (stylus) of the 14th and 15th centuries made from silver; it produced a fine line and maintained a sharp point.


Skene

A building erected on a Greek or Roman stage, as a backdrop against which some of the action took place; it usually consisted of a screen of columns, arranged in several stories.


Spandrel

The area between the exterior curves of two adjoining arches or, in the case of a single arch, the area around its outside curve from its springing to its keystone.


Spatial perspective

The exploration of the spatial relationships between objects; painters were especially interested in spatial perspective in the Hellenistic period in Greece.


Spolia

Latin for “hide stripped from an animal”; term used for (1) spoils of war and (2) fragments of architecture or sculpture reused in a secondary context.


Springing

The part of an arch in contact with its base.


Squinches

Arches set diagonally at the corners of a square or rectangle to establish a transition to the shape of the dome above.


Stele

From the Greek word for “standing block,” an upright stone slab or pillar, sometimes with a carved design or inscription.


Stereobate

The substructure of a Classical building, especially a Greek temple.


Still life

A term used to describe paintings (and sometimes sculpture) that depict familiar objects such as household items and food.


Stylobate

A platform or masonry floor above the stereobate forming the foundation for the columns of a Greek temple.


Sunken relief

Relief sculpture in which the figures or designs are modeled beneath the surface of the stone, within a sharp outline.


Symposium

In ancient Greece, a gathering, sometimes of intellectuals and philosophers to discuss ideas, often in an informal social setting, such as at a dinner party.


Syncretism

The act of bringing together disparate customs or beliefs; historians usually describe Roman culture as syncretistic, because Roman embraced many of the practices of those they conquered.


Synoptic narrative

A narrative with different moments presented simultaneously, in order to encapsulate the entire story in a single scene; the device appears in early Greek pediment sculpture.


Tempera

Medium for painting in which pigments are suspended in egg yolk tempered with water or chemicals; this mixture dries quickly, reducing the possibility of changes in the finished painting.


Tesserae

A small piece of colored stone, glass, marble, or gold-backed glass used in a mosaic.


Tholos

A building with a circular plan, often with a sacred nature.


Tondo

A circular painting or relief sculpture.


Transept

A cross arm in a basilican church placed at right angles to the nave and usually separating it from the choir or apse.


Transversals

In a perspective construction, transversals are the lines parallel to the picture plane (horizontally) that denote distances; they intersect orthogonals to make a grid that guides the arrangement of elements to suggest space.


Tribune

A platform or walkway in a church constructed overlooking the aisle and above the nave.


Triglyphs

The element of a Doric frieze separating two consecutive metopes and divided by grooves into three sections.


Trilithic

A form of construction using three stones–two uprights and a lintel–found frequently in Neolithic tomb and ritual architecture.


Triptych

An altarpiece or devotional picture, either carved or painted, with one central panel and two hinged wings.


Triumphal arch

The great transverse arch at the eastern end of a church that frames altar apse and separates them from the main body of the church; it is frequently decorated with mosaics or mural paintings.


Trompe-l’œil

Meaning “trick of the eye” in French, it is a work of art designed to deceive a viewer into believing that the work of art is reality, an actual three-dimensional object or scene in space.


Trumeau

A small, often decorative, column that is connected to a wall or pier.


Truss

A triangular wooden or metal support for a roof that may be left exposed in the interior or be covered by a ceiling.


Tumulus

A monumental earth mound, often raided over a tomb; Etruscan builders constructed tumuli with internal chambers for burials.


Turret

(1) A small tower that is part of a larger structure; (2) a small tower at the corner of a building, often beginning some distance from the ground.


Tuscan style

An architectural style typical of ancient Italy; the style is similar to the Doric style, but the column shafts have bases.


Tympanum

(1) In Classical architecture, a recessed, usually triangular area often decorated with sculpture, also called a pediment; (1) in Medieval architecture, an arched area between an arch and the lintel of a door or window, frequently carved with relief sculpture.


Typology

The matching or pairing of pre-Christian figures, persons and symbols with their Christian counterparts.


Vanishing point

The point at which the orthogonals meet and disappear in a composition with scientific perspective.


Veristic

From the Latin verus, meaning “true”; describes a hyperrealistic style of portraiture that emphasizes individual characteristics.


Vignette

A decorative design often used in manuscripts or books to separate sections or to decorate borders.


Volute

A spiraling architectural element found notably on Ionic and Composite capitals but also used decoratively on building façades and interiors.


Voussoir

A wedge-shaped piece of stone used in arch construction.


Warp

The vertical threads used in a weaver’s loom through which the weft is woven.


Web

Masonry construction of brick, concrete, stone, etc. that is used to fill in the spaces between groin vault ribs.


Weft

The horizontal threads that are interlaced through the vertical threads (the warp) in a woven fabric; weft yarns run perpendicular to the warp.


Westwork

From the German word Westwerk; in Carolingian, Ottonian, and German Romanesque architecture, a monumental western front of a church, treated as a tower or combination of towers and containing an entrance and vestibule below and a chapel and galleries above; later examples often added a transept and a crossing tower.


White-ground

Vase-painting technique in which artists painted a wide range of colors onto a white background; this was a favorite technique for decorating lekythoi (vases used in a funerary context in ancient Greece).


Woodcut

A print made by carving out a design on a wooden block cut along the grain, applying ink to the raised surfaces that remain, and printing from those.


X-radiographic

Using a form of electromagnetic radiation called X-rays, researchers can examine the layers of paint or other materials used by artists to construct works of art.


Ziggurat

From the Assyrian word ziqquratu, meaning “mountaintop” or height.” In ancient Assyria and Babylonia, a pyramidal mound or tower built of mud-bring forming the base for a temple. It was often either stepped or had a broad ascent winding around it, which gave it the appearance of being stepped.