This section 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. Another page shows an illustrated directory of the Stones of Rome.
|acanthus in this page||aedicule in this page||amorino in this page|
|apse in this page||architrave in this page||atlantes in this page|
|balustrade in this page||bas-relief in page 4||broken pediment in this page|
|bucranium in this page||bugnato in this page||calotta in page 2|
|capital in page 2||cartouche in page 2||caryatid in page 2|
|cassettone in page 2||centaur in page 2||cornice in this page|
|cornucopia in page 2||Cosmati work in page 2||Cupid in this page|
|dome in page 2||drum in page 2||entablature in this page|
|festoon in this page||frieze in this page||gisant in page 2|
|graffito in page 2||Greek cross in page 3||Greek key pattern in page 3|
|grotesque in page 2||grotto in page 3||herm in page 3|
|high relief in page 4||hippocamp in page 3||inlay in this page|
|keystone in page 3||lantern in page 2||Latin cross in page 3|
|loggia in page 3||lunette in page 3||metope in this page|
|nereid in page 3||nymphaeum in page 3||order in page 2|
|paliotto in this page||parapet in page 3||portico in page 3|
|putto in this page||quadratura in page 3||relief in page 4|
|rose window in page 4||rotunda in page 3||sarcophagus in page 4|
|satyr in page 2||Serliana in page 4||solomonic in page 4|
|sotto in su in page 3||triglyph in this page||trophy in page 4|
|Vitruvian opening in page 4||Vitruvian scroll in page 4||volute in page 4|
|acanthus; inlay; paliotto;|
acanthus is a plant common in Mediterranean countries, the leaves of which were admired by the ancient Greeks for their elegance: their conventional representation frequently decorated Greek and Roman works of art and later on those of Renaissance and Baroque artists.
inlay is a technique by which different types of wood, marble or other precious materials are used to form a picture.
paliotto is the decorated front of an altar.
The image shows the marble paliotto of the altar dedicated to St. Thomas of Villanova in S. Agostino in Rome.
aedicule (It. edicola) is a small temple usually having a circular or octagonal shape used as a shrine for the statue of a god.
The term applies also to small circular chapels such as Cappella di Reginald Pole.
By extension the term is used for a sort of small temple inserted by Baroque architects in the upper part of the façade of a church.
The image shows the aedicule designed by Francesco Borromini for S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane in Rome.
|amorino; cupid; putto;|
amorino, cupid and putto are terms used to design naked infant children, but amorino and cupid have small wings, while putto does not have them: cupid in addition has bow and arrows.
The image shows to the left a cupid, at the centre an amorino and to the right a putto. It is part of the decoration of Fontaine des Innocents in Paris.
apse is the usually circular termination of the nave of a church. It derives from the design of Roman basilicas (see Basilica di Massenzio).
In many medieval churches the aisles have an apse too as in this image of the Cathedral of Anagni.
|architrave; cornice; entablature; frieze; metope; triglyph|
All these terms relate to the structure of Greek temples (e.g. the Parthenon) which became a cornerstone of ancient and modern architecture.
entablature is the section of the temple between the columns and the roof and it is composed by:
a) the architrave (A) immediately above the columns;
b) the frieze (B) containing the metopes (E), a series of rectangular reliefs separated by triglyphs (D), blocks with a uniform vertical decoration;
c) the cornice (C) immediately below the roof.
Modern researchers and in particular George Hersey in The Lost Meaning of Architecture have associated the elements of Greek temples with the sacrifices which took place in them.
The image shows the entrance of a house near Palazzo del Quirinale in Rome. It is a mixture of styles: a Renaissance door is inserted in a classical frame while the metopes show the heraldic symbols (lamp, lion, eagle) of Pope Innocent XI.
Atlas, (It. Atlante) the leader of the Titans, defeated by Zeus, was awarded an exemplary punishment, being ordered to carry the sky on his shoulders.
This mythological reference explains why a male figure replacing a column or a pillar is called atlantes. Because Atlas was usually portrayed on his knees, a standing male figure is sometimes called telamon after Telamon, father of Ajax, who in the myth built an altar to Heracles.
The image shows a detail of the decoration of the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens.
A female figure is called caryatid.
balustrade: row of short pillars (balusters) with curved outline, used as a decorative parapet or to separate a chapel from the rest of the church.
The image shows a balustrade in S. Giovanni in Laterano designed by Francesco Borromini, which is characterized by the inversion of the balusters.
a pediment is the crowning of a portico or a façade, having usually a triangular shape (tympanum). Broken pediments are typical of Baroque architecture.
The image shows the broken pediment of Oratorio del SS. Sacramento in Rome.
bucranium is a Latin word meaning ox-scull: it was a typical decoration of the frieze of classical temples, a clear reference to the sacrifices of oxen.
festoon: a garland of fruit and flowers.
Festoons can also be seen in Renaissance palaces, e.g. in la Farnesina.
The image shows the decoration of Tomba di Cecilia Metella in Rome.
bugnato is a typical decoration of Renaissance Florentine palaces largely utilized again in the XIXth century.
The name refers to bugne, large stones partly projecting from the walls.
The image shows an early XXth century building decorated with bugnato by architect Gino Coppedè in Rome.