This page provides an illustrated explanation of 63 art terms which are often used in this web site. A few Italian terms which are not included in the Oxford Concise Dictionary of Art Terms, are written in italics. The terms in the upper table are linked with the definitions/illustrations of the lower table. Click here for the names of the Stones of Rome.
|acanthus in page 1||aedicule in page 1||amorino in page 1|
|apse in page 1||architrave in page 1||atlantes in page 1|
|balustrade in page 1||bas-relief in page 4||broken pediment in page 1|
|bucranium in page 1||bugnato in page 1||calotta in this page|
|capital in this page||cartouche in this page||caryatid in this page|
|cassettone in this page||centaur in this page||cornice in page 1|
|cornucopia in this page||Cosmati work in this page||Cupid in page 1|
|dome in this page||drum in this page||entablature in page 1|
|festoon in page 1||frieze in page 1||gisant in this page|
|graffito in this page||Greek cross in page 3||Greek key pattern in page 3|
|grotesque in this page||grotto in page 3||herm in page 3|
|high relief in page 4||hippocamp in page 3||inlay in page 1|
|keystone in page 3||lantern in this page||Latin cross in page 3|
|loggia in page 3||lunette in page 3||metope in page 1|
|nereid in page 3||nymphaeum in page 3||order in this page|
|paliotto in page 1||parapet in page 3||portico in page 3|
|putto in page 1||quadratura in page 3||relief in page 4|
|rose window in page 4||rotunda in page 3||sarcophagus in page 4|
|satyr in this page||Serliana in page 4||solomonic in page 4|
|sotto in su in page 3||triglyph in page 1||trophy in page 4|
|Vitruvian opening in page 4||Vitruvian scroll in page 4||volute in page 4|
|calotta; dome; drum; lantern|
dome (also called cupola after the same Italian word) means the rounded vault of a temple (Pantheon) and later on of churches and palaces.
It can be distinguished in three parts:
a) drum (A) often having a polygonal shape and with thick walls to support the weight of the
b) calotta (B) the curved section of the dome which is often composed of an inner and an outer calotta;
c) lantern (C) a small and decorated structure with windows.
The image shows the dome of S. Maria del Fiore in Florence designed by Filippo Brunelleschi.
Greek temples were designed according to three standard modules (order) which mainly differed in the design of the capital, the upper part of the column immediately below the architrave. The earliest design is called Doric order and it was followed by the Ionic order (characterized by two volutes) and by the Corinthian order (decorated with acanthus leaves). The Romans combined Ionic and Corinthian orders in an order called composite.
The images show (left to right): a Doric capital in the Parthenon of Athens; a Ionic capital of a temple in Veii now in Piazza Colonna in Rome; a composite capital of Olimpieion in Athens.
a cartouche is a decorative tablet imitating a scroll with rolled-up ends, usually bearing an inscription. Gian Lorenzo Bernini designed a gigantic cartouche in S. Maria in Aracoeli.
The image shows a cartouche above the entrance of Collegio Ghislieri in Via Giulia in Rome.
According to Robert Graves (The Greek Myths), Carya, daughter of a Laconian king, was beloved of Dyonisus, but died suddenly and was metamorphosed by him into a walnut-tree. Artemis brought the news to the Laconians, who built a temple to Artemis Caryatis, from which caryatids - female statues used as columns - take their name. The image shows the decorative caryatids of Scloss Sanssouci in Potsdam, Germany.
A male figure is called atlantes.
a cassettoni is the Italian locution characterizing a Renaissance wooden ceiling divided into deep cavities.
At the beginning of the Renaissance the cavities had a regular shape, but later on a more elaborated design prevailed together with a richly painted and gilded decoration.
See some other ceilings of this type.
The image shows the ceiling of S. Grisogono decorated with the heraldic symbols of Cardinal Scipione Borghese Caffarelli.
centaur in Greek mythology is a horse with the body, the arms and the face of a man; perhaps a reference to archaic moon dances by men disguised as horses. Centaurs are often shown in battle scenes.
satyrs are mythological woodland half goat half human deities. They are usually portrayed in lewd attitudes.
The images show a satyr and a centaur in the reliefs in the courtyard of Palazzo Spada in Rome.
Cornucopia is one of the horns of Amaltheia, the goat-nymph who nursed Zeus. She gave it to Zeus who presented it to Adrasteia and Io, two other nymphs: it became the horn of plenty (Latin: cornus=horn, copia=abundance), which is always filled with whatever food or drink its owner may desire.
A very common decoration theme, cornucopia is often shown in a very standardized way (see the cornucopias in Porta del Popolo in Rome).
An exception is the long cornucopia held by the River Tiber in a colossal statue now in Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome.
Cosmati is the generic name given to families of Roman decorators who made use of pieces of marbles and other stones which had been part of Roman temples and buildings.
Their activity spanned from the beginning of the XIIth century to the end of the XIIIth century. A recurring design is a spiral around a disc of red porphyry.
The best examples of Cosmati works can be found in the cloister of S. Paolo fuori le Mura, in the portico of the Cathedral of Civitacastellana and in the pavements of several churches in Rome.
The image shows a detail of the pavement of S. Maria in Cosmedin in Rome.
gisant is a word of French origin used with reference to funerary monuments where the deceased is portrayed lying on the lid of a sarcophagus having the shape of a bed.
For a page on the funerary monuments to the popes click here.
The image shows a detail of the monument to the English Cardinal of Hartford in S. Cecilia in Rome.
graffito means scratched and it defines a drawing technique based on two colours which gives the impression to the viewer that the colour on the surface is scratched in order to show a different colour under it.
grotesque is a decorative theme used by the Romans and rediscovered at the beginning of the XVIth century in the ruins of Nero's Domus Aurea. Because the ruins had the appearance of caves (It. grotta) the decorations were called grotesque. They show small figures of men and animals, foliage and amorini, often arranged to form a sort of chandelier (candelabra).
The image shows a detail of Palazzo Vitelli della Cannoniera in Cittą di Castello.