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Arca - art glossary
Category: Travel and Transportation > Glossary of art terms
Date & country: 04/09/2008, IT
Words: 148

The acanthus leaf was used as a decorative motif on the Corinthian capital and later on the Composite capital. The form is a stylized version of the plant's long, slender leaves and pointed flowers.

Small structure intended to house a sacred image or statue. It may also be a niche set into the external wall of a building.

Altar frontal
Decoration of the front of an altar table, often either a relief sculpture or inlay. Usually made of marble but precious materials such as ivory or silver may also be used. Sometimes called antependium.

Altar panel
Large painting of a religious subject, situated above an altar in a church.

Alto-rilievo (High relief)
Technique of sculpting in which the figures are considerably raised or detached from the background. In a bas-relief the figures are only slightly raised from the surface.

Derived from Arabic, amber is a fossilized resin, reddish-yellow in colour and more or less transparant. It has been used from ancient times to make trinkets and jewellery.

A semi-circular or polygonal projection of a building, with a half dome or conch (bowl-shaped vault). In churches it is at the end of the central nave (sometimes also at the end of the side naves or transept) and houses the main altar and the choir. Two identical, facing apses are known as a double apse and where, as in some Romanesque churches, there are three, a triple apse.

A small projecting apse forming part of the main apse. A typical element of Gothic and Cluniac architecture.

An architectural structure supported by columns or pilasters. The classical elements of an arch are: 1) intrados - the underside or soffit of an arch; 2) keystone - a central wedge-shaped block in the upper curved section; 3) extrados - the outer curve of the arch; 4) the impost - the blocks or bands on either side, from which the arch springs; 5) the span - the distance between the two sides. Var...

The lowest of the three main elements of an entablature. Also a moulded frame around a door or window.

Art Nouveau
Highly decorative artistic style, popular at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Heavy use is made of ornamentally curving lines and shapes derived from flower and plant motifs.

Large square block of stone usually used as quoins on the outer corners of buildings decorated with rustication.

Male version of a caryatide, a sculpted figure used instead of a column to support an entablature. Also called telamon.

Decorative architectural element situated above the cornice of a building and concealing the roof from view.

Baptismal font
Usually made of stone or marble and of various shapes, containing the holy water used during the ritual of baptism (* baptistery).

Religious building of circular design where the baptismal font is housed. Usually built beside or in front of a church or cathedral.

Style of art popular in Italy and throughout Europe in the 17th century. It consisted of rich and elaborate detail and complex design. The term possibly derived from the Spanish barrueca (a rare type of pearl with an uneven shape) which later assumed the French form, baroque.

* Alto rilievo.

Lowest part of a building on which the entire structure rests. Also the lowest element of an order supporting the shaft of a column.

In ancient Rome the basilica was a public building which served several purposes of an institutional nature, both civil and religious. The building was generally rectangular and was divided by colonnades. The wall at one end formed a semi-circular or rectangular apse. The term later came to mean a Christian church which adopted the same design as the Roman basilica.

Roman baths consisted of a complex of buildings which were used as public baths and meeting place. They usually consisted of a series of rooms containing basins, baths and pools with warm, tepid and cold water (known as the calidarium, the tepidarium and the frigidarium); there was also a laconicum (a steam bath) and a apodyterium (changing room).

A form of indented parapet around the top of castles and towers which may either be defensive or decorative. A Guelf battlement was rectangular while the solid upright blocks (merlons) of a Ghibelline battlement were further indented with a 'V' shape.

Space limited by two adjacent weight-bearing structures (columns, pilasters etc.). In churches the bay is also an area of the nave defined by four adjacent columns or pilasters in facing pairs. Here, the bay generally has a cross vault ( * vault).

Bell tower (Campanile)
Structure in the shape of a tower, often incorporated into the outer wall of a church, though it may also be free-standing. The church bells are housed in the upper section.

Derived from the Latin apothèca, in turn derived from the Greek term apothèke. Room or rooms inside a building, opening onto the street and used for either a commercial activity or as an artist's or craftsman's workshop.

* Corbel.

Metal resulting from the fusion of copper and tin, occasionally with the addition of other metals. Used for figurines and statues.

Byzantine art
Figurative art which came into being around the 4th century A.D. in the eastern

* Bell tower.

Choir gallery, usually raised, for the choir of singers in a church.

Latin term for the main road running in a north-south direction through a town or city and crossing the decumanus which ran from west to east.

In the 'free comunes' during the Middle Ages, the carroccio was a large wagon with four wheels drawn by oxen and symbolized the independence of the city. During periods of war, it was brought to the battlefield decorated with all the emblems and insignia of the city, the war bell and an altar.

A charcoal drawing made on card used in the making of large works of art, especially frescoes. The outline is then nicked out with a small knife or pricked out with an awl and placed on the surface to be painted. The form is then dusted with coal powder which leaves the outline of the picture to be painted on the surface.

The main church of a bishopric. The bishop officiates at the religious ceremonies and practices his spiritual teachings here.

Semicircular area of a Roman theatre or amphitheatre occupied by rows of seats for the public.

Derived from the Latin coenaculum - a room where one ate. Subsequently the term used for the room where Christ and his disciples ate the Last Supper and consequently paintings representing this scene.

The name derives from the oratory in Charlemagne's palace at Aquisgrana in Germany, where the cape of Saint Martin of Tours was housed. In the nave of a church it represents a niche containing an altar dedicated to a saint.

Chapter house
Large room in a cathedral or monastery where the chapter (governing body) met to discuss and decide on matters concerning the religious community.

Outer vestment worn by officiating priest at mass.

Chisel (Cesello)
The cesello is a small chisel with a rounded tip used for engraving images or decorations on metal and stone.

Section of a church situated behind the main altar, furnished with stalls and intended for members of the choir.

Choir stalls
Canopied and carved seats for the choir and officiating clergy in a church.

Internal courtyard of a monastery or convent with a portico of slender columns supporting a roof and resting on a low wall.

Coffered ceiling
Square or polygonal panels set into a ceiling and often decorated with ornamental motifs.

Decorative pattern on a large, flat surface - usually a floor - consisting of the inlay of small unevenly shaped and variously coloured stones.

Composite order
An order of Roman architecture characterized by a capital - much used in triumphal arches - consisting of acanthus leaves and large volutes. It is a combination of elements of both the Ionic and the Corinthian orders.

Architectural element which projects from a wall and supports beams and cornices.

Corinthian order
Architectural order which originated in Corinth around the 5th century B.C. The Corinthian capital is decorated with acanthus leaves from which small volutes emerge.

Horizontal decorative element found where the wall meets the ceiling. Also the uppermost main division of an entablature.

Vase in the shape of a horn, filled with fruit and decorated with flowers. A classic symbol of abundance.

Staff, resembling a shepherd's crook, carried by bishops and abbots as a symbol of office.

Cross vault
* Vault.

Cross window
Divided into four sections by a mullion and a transom.

Underground chamber or vault, usually beneath the presbytery of a church and used for burial or sometimes as an oratory.


* Cardo.

A series of small rectangular blocks, similar to a row of teeth, decorating Corinthian, Ionic and Composite cornices.

Dome (Cupola)
Curved or spherical vault (may also be semi-circular with an oval section) mainly found in religious buildings. The cupola rests on a 'drum' with a polygonal or cylindrical external structure and is crowned by a lantern through which light is admitted to the interior.

Stone surface of a building, worked to a finish, whether smooth or moulded. Also the decorative stonework around any of the openings.

Drop arch
* Arch.

* Dome.

A siliceous substance made from a mixture of feldspar, quartz, carbonate and sodium chloride. Used to decorate ceramics and metals. Metals may be decorated using the cloisonné technique whereby the paste is set into small mountings created by metal thread, or using the champlevé technique, where the paste is set into dents made by a punch on the surface of the metal.

Arrangement of three horizontal members - architrave, frieze and cornice - supported by columns or pilasters.

Object, often a small painting, offered to a saint to express gratitude.

Outer curve of an arch with a structural or purely decorative function (* arch).

Flamboyant Gothic
Style of Gothic architecture which came into being at the end of the 14th and beginning of the 15th centuries. It developed in similar fashion in many European countries and was characterized, especially in painting and the applied arts, by an extremely linear decorative style and a purity of colour. Flamboyant Gothic may have derived from the influence of Simone Martini's later work on French ar...

Fòndaco Store
In the early Middle Ages the term signified a building used not only as a hotel but also as a trading centre for merchants during their period of residence in foreign countries.

A technique of painting which consists of applying diluted paint to fresh, damp lime plaster. This method creates a chemical reaction which, in drying, transforms the lime of the plaster into calcium carbonate. The result is a smooth and resistant surface which incorporates the pigment with the material of the wall.

The middle of the three main elements of an entablature. A horizontal band with cornice above and architrave below. In the Doric order it consists of metope - a square panel sculpted with figures - and triglyph - panels with three vertical grooves. In the other orders the band of the frieze is usually continuous and is entirely decorated with sculpted figures.

A long room or corridor, usually on the upper floor and extending the full length of a building. In church architecture, an open upper storey over an aisle.

A collection of plaster moulds used to produce series of statues, bas-reliefs, medallions etc.

Style which influenced first architecture and later painting, sculpture and the minor arts. It developed in France during the mid-12th century and spread throughout Europe and Italy from the 13th to the 15th centuries. Gothic sculpture is characterized by a pure, verical line and delicate interpretation; in architecture the pointed arch, ribbed vault and flying buttresses are typical features.

A decorative design made by scratching the plaster of a wall, or the surface of a stone, metal, ceramics or layer of painting, to reveal the contrasting colour of the background. Alternatively the outline made may be filled with a material of a different colour.

The base, raw material to be used in producing an item; also painting, sculpture etc. in unfinished, 'roughed out' stage.

Derived from the term grotto which was used in the 16th century to describe the ruins of the Domus Aurea (Nero's palace in Rome). It describes painted or stucco decoration in a style frequent in ancient Rome which represented imaginary and fantastic motifs (plants interwoven with mythical or semi-human and animal figures).

A tapering pilaster which, in ancient Greece, was sculpted with the head of a god (usually Hermes). More generally, it now indicates any sculpture representing a human bust.

* Alto rilievo.

Horseshoe arch
* Arch.

Religious image painted on a panel, typical of Byzantine religious and artistic culture (* Byzantine). The Russian church later adopted these as items of worship and devotion. Impost. Block or slab from which an arch springs.

Inlaid work
Technique of inlaying pieces of stone or wood (marquetry) of different colours to create a design or picture.

The inner curve or underside of an arch. Also known as a soffit.

Kneeling windows
Typical feature of Renaissance buildings, the window is framed by columns, entablature and tympanum, all resting on two corbels or brackets.

Crowning element of a dome, usually circular or polygonal, admitting light to the interior of the building.


Outer edge of an arch which may be purely decorative or structural in function.

Part of a building, or sometimes an entire structure, open on one or more sides, with a roof supported by pilasters or columns. Often used as a meeting place or market.

Semi-circular space decorated with frescoes or mosaics usually situated above doors or windows where the vault joins the walls. Also used to describe a semicircular section above a painting or bas-relief.

Group of Italian impressionist painters who used a technique of 'spots' (macchie) of colour. The school came into being in Florence between 1857 and 1867; some of its most important exponents were Giovanni Fattori, Telemaco Signorini and Silvestro Lega.

A highly formalized and elegant form of art which came into being in 16th-century Italy. With Mannerism, methodical use of the principles of variety and complexity developed into an extrovert display of artistic virtuosity.

Technique consisting of the inlay of ornamental woods, metals, ivory and other decorative materials, arranged to form designs and patterns.

(it.), internal loggia or gallery, usually above the side naves of early Christian or Romanesque churches, reserved for women.

Small bas-relief, often made of metal.

Used to describe a figurative image executed in a single colour, or shades of a single colour.

Monolithic column
A column made from a single block of stone, rather than in several sections.

Decorative design covering a large, flat surface - often a floor - made of inlay arranged in a regular pattern according to the form and colour of various stones used.

Decorative feature added to an architectural element which may be simple or enriched in design.

Window divided into two vertical parts by a small column or pilaster. Frequently found in Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance buildings.

The main body or central aisle of a church which may be enclosed by walls (church with a single nave), by columns or by pilasters (church with three or five naves where the central one is usually higher and wider).

* Aedicule.

Oval or circular opening or window in a wall or dome.