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An Illustrated Glossary - page 1

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 this pageaedicule in this pageamorino in this page
apse in this pagearchitrave in this pageatlantes in this page
balustrade in this pagebas-relief in page 4broken pediment in this page
bucranium in this pagebugnato in this pagecalotta in page 2
capital in page 2cartouche in page 2caryatid in page 2
cassettone in page 2centaur in page 2cornice in this page
cornucopia in page 2Cosmati work in page 2Cupid in this page
dome in page 2drum in page 2entablature in this page
festoon in this pagefrieze in this pagegisant in page 2
graffito in page 2Greek cross in page 3Greek key pattern in page 3
grotesque in page 2grotto in page 3herm in page 3
high relief in page 4hippocamp in page 3inlay in this page
keystone in page 3lantern in page 2Latin cross in page 3
loggia in page 3lunette in page 3metope in this page
nereid in page 3nymphaeum in page 3order in page 2
paliotto in this pageparapet in page 3portico in page 3
putto in this pagequadratura in page 3relief in page 4
rose window in page 4rotunda in page 3sarcophagus in page 4
satyr in page 2Serliana in page 4solomonic in page 4
sotto in su in page 3triglyph in this page trophy in page 4
Vitruvian opening in page 4Vitruvian scroll in page 4volute 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 S. Tommaso di 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 center 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 some 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 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 Innocentius XI Odescalchi (1676-89).
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 Dionysius 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, characterized by the inversion of the balusters.
broken pediment
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.
broken pediment
bucranium; festoon
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.
A late Renaissance adaptation of these motifs can be seen in Palazzo del Laterano in Rome where the bucranium is replaced by a lion head and the garland is made of pears (Lion and Pears being the heraldic symbols of pope Sixtus V who built the palace).
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.

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