GLOSSARY/ SOURCES A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
Abecedary: a list, often a book, with items in alphabetical order.
Abstract: imagery made according to some standard other than a “true-to-life” representation. Abstraction may simplify, exaggerate, schematize, or otherwise change natural appearances, or it may depart from offering anything recognizable.
Abstract Expressionism: a movement in painting that flourished from the late-1940s through the 1950s, mainly in New York City (and thus also known as the New York School). Under the rubric of “action painting,” its proponents stressed the spontaneity of working methods as a means for accessing unconscious creative impulses. Key figures include Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Lee Krasner, Sam Francis and Helen Frankenthaler.
Academic: in general, art made according to the practices of an established school, often nationally-identified and state-supported.
Acropolis: Greek for “high city,” the term refers to the elevated portions of cities on which the main temples were built.
Aerial perspective: a means of depicting deep space in painting or graphic arts by rendering objects at greater distances more indistinct, to suggest the interposition of an atmospheric haze.
Aesthetics: a term coined in 1735 by German philosopher Alexander Baumgarten to name the study of that which is sensed and/or imagined, and of sensation and imagination more generally.
Agitprop: from “agitation” and “propaganda,” art that intends to motivate its viewers to political awareness and/or action.
Allegory: a description or depiction of one subject under the guise of another, more complex and extended than a metaphor, often with material objects and events used to convey relations between abstract ideas.
Altar: a raised surface or place used as the practical focal point of a religious service.
Anamorphosis: an image made to be viewed either from one distinct point (sometimes with the means of special reflective surfaces), which otherwise appears distorted. Linear perspective forms one (relatively major) subset of anamorphosis.
Ancient: in the usage of this website, anything that pre-dates the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE.
Anti-art: works that seek to undermine prevailing standards for the form or content of anything considered “art,” first used to describe the practices and works of the Dada movement that flourished during the First World War and its aftermath in Europe.
Aquatint: a technique in etching in which a fine powder of resin is applied to a metal plate to be bitten in an acid bath in order to cover the plate, in whole or in parts, with a fine texture that yields even shades of grey when inked and printed.
Architecture: in the usage of this website, any edifice built for one or more uses, as well as the practice of designing such edifices.
Architrave: the lintel in Classical architecture, or that which spans two columns at the top and forms the lowest part of the Entablature.
Art: in the usage of this website, any human activity requiring consciously applied skills, and/or material objects or events considered specifically as embodiments of such skills. Art History is the practice of establishing the relevant conditions under which artworks have been produced, and the relations that artworks have borne to the conditions of their production and subsequent reception.
Automatism (Automatic): the practice of making art that attempts to downplay conscious direction, giving free-play to unconscious or otherwise random impulses, though often within a predetermined set of material and practical conditions.
Avant-garde: from the French term for the leading part of an army, generally applied to art and artists considered (by themselves or others) to be at the forefront of developments in aesthetic practices and awareness.
Axis: an imaginary straight line that runs through the middle of something, or about which things are arranged, typically according to material, geometric, or perceptual equilibrium.
Background: in a picture, that which appears furthest from the viewer, often marked by a horizon line, and generally opposed to a foreground in which the main subject of the scene appears. Often, though not always, back- and foregrounds are separated by a middle-ground.
Balance: in art generally the principle whereby elements in a work (painting, sculpture, architecture, or other) are deployed to give an overall feeling of stability. Axial or radial arrangements of elements are one way to achieve a basic sense of balance, though more complex compositions are typical, and artists generally deploy disparate elements – whether of size, shape, color, value, definition, or psychological and narrative interest – with reference to an encompassing frame to achieve locally dynamic equilibrium that nonetheless tends toward a sense of wholeness and completion within an entire work.
Baroque: this term that has come to designate a stylistic period corresponding roughly with the seventeenth century in (mainly Catholic) Europe (generally following on Mannerism in the sixteenth century and merging into the Rococo later into the eighteenth). Baroque style is often characterized as having a complex sinuosity of form, line and overall composition; often elaborate detail, whether naturalistic or decorative, and bold color and strong contrasts in lighting (see Chiaroscuro); all of which contribute to the hallmark grandeur and emotional intensity of many of the period’s masterpieces. More broadly, the self-conscious exploration of metaphor and especially allegory are also seen as developments within Baroque aesthetics. Like most stylistic periods, the Baroque was identified as such only later in history, established largely in art historical terms by Heinrich Wölfflin in his volume entitled Renaissance and Baroque.
Basilica: originally designating a Roman public building with civic and judicial functions, this term and the associated architectural elements were later borrowed for large or ceremonially important Catholic churches. Generally, the form includes a large rectangular center nave-like space, flanked by columned aisles and a clerestory, with a main entrance at one end and a raised altar at another.
Bauhaus: an influential movement in aesthetics, visual art, architecture and industrial design devoted to elegant simplicity of form, particularly as an integral aspect of the efficient, large-scale production of useful objects for urban masses. Centered around three schools in interwar Germany (Weimar, 1919-1925; Dessau, 1925-1932; and Berlin, 1932-1933), many of its leaders came to the United States when the school was closed under Hitler. Key figures include Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy, and Josef Albers.
BCE: a non-denominational chronological abbreviation for “Before Current Era,” used to replace B.C. or “Before Christ,” though it too applies to years preceding the Christian year 1 (even while the absolute calculation of this date has changed somewhat over time).
Bestiary: a graphic and literary genre particularly popular in Medieval Europe that collected images and descriptions of animals, real and imaginary, often along with allegorical moral lessons or stories.
Bust: a sculpted or painted portrait that comprises the head, shoulders and upper arms of the subject.
Byzantine: in art and architecture, this term identifies works from the Eastern Roman Empire, roughly from the founding of its capital Constantinople (originally Byzantium, now Istanbul) in 330 CE until the city’s capture by the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
Calligraphy: from the Greek for “beautiful writing,” this term refers to hand-drawn, stylized script, an art practiced in a variety of cultures across time.
Canvas: canvas is a tightly woven fabric of hemp or cotton and the primary support for oil-based paints; starting in the sixteenth century it replaced wooden panels as the main form of support for artworks in Europe.
Carnival: in Roman Catholic regions, the term designates the three days of festivities that precede the forty day fast of Lent; in the U.S. the best known example of carnival is the Mardi-Gras (literally Fat Tuesday) still celebrated in the former French colonies of the south.
Cartoon: in an archaic sense, a preliminary drawing done to the full size of a planned work and used to transfer the design to the wall, panel, or canvas; in a more familiar contemporary sense, a drawing, often reproduced in news and opinion periodicals, with primarily emotional, social and/or political import.
Cathedral: the main church of a diocese containing the cathedra, or bishop’s chair.
Celtic: in art historical terms, works produced by the Celtic peoples, in Western Europe from around 450 BCE to the first century CE, and in the British Isles and Ireland especially during the first millennium CE.
Cenacolo: Italian word derived from Latin coenaculum, or “a room where one ate,” used to designate the room of the Last Supper between Christ and his disciples, and hence paintings with that subject.
Charcoal: burned (and most often compressed) wood used for drawing.
Chiaroscuro: from the Italian for “light and dark,” a term used to describe art that uses strongly contrasting lighted and shaded areas, particularly in suggesting the volumes of objects.
Cinema: coined in the last decade of the 19th century from the Greek for “movement,” this term names the medium that presents images in rapid succession, typically to simulate naturalistic movement.
Cinquecento: from the Italian for “five hundred,” designating the sixteenth century (i.e. “one-thousand five hundreds”).
Circa (c.): Latin for about, used to indicate the approximate date or dates of an event, life or other occurrence.
Classical: most specifically, this term designates the 5th and 4th centuries BCE in Greece and the works produced then and there, though it has come to be used of Greek and Roman antiquity in general, and even more broadly of the idealized forms and overall aesthetic austerity associated with these artistic cultures.
Codex: a manuscript consisting of multiple handwritten pages.
Copyright: the right to publish, produce, sell, and/or distribute an artwork (or to delegate these functions), granted either to an artist or (in the United States) her representatives for seventy years following her death.
Color: the property characterizing visible light of varying wavelengths, the color of something being the wavelength of the light reflected by it; Primary Colors are red, blue and yellow/green, meaning that combinations of these are able to produce the rest of the shades in the spectrum, Secondary Colors being those composed of equal parts of two primaries; Complementary Colors are those on opposite sides of a Color Wheel, a radial arrangement of the spectrum with the three primaries arranged at 120 degrees, thus emphasizing the colors’ interrelations; a Pure Hue is a particular wavelength of light, i.e. a specific color; a Tint is a pure (or completely Saturated) hue with white added, a Shade a hue with black added; both terms denote possible changes of a given hue’s Value, i.e. how Light or Dark it is, as (subtly) distinct from its Intensity, which indicates how Bright or Dull a hue is. A Color Scheme refers generally to the range and combination of colors in a given artwork, otherwise known as a Palette.
Color Field painting: sometimes considered as a development of Abstract Expressionism, composes images out of large, juxtaposed areas of single colors. Key figures include Mark Rothko, Jules Olitski and Helen Frankenthaler.
Commodity: something bought or sold (or, more generally, an object of trade); to Commodify is to render something thus liable to common valuation and trade.
Composition: in visual art, the arrangement of the elements of a work, or, as Leon Battista Alberti expresses it (in “Book Two” of On Painting): “the rule in painting by which the parts fit together.”
Conceptual: in art, works in which an immaterial idea (often a process) is as or more important than the work’s physical embodiment, which is often negligibly slight and/or un-enduring.
Connoisseur: see Critic.
Contour: outline; Contour Drawing is that which concentrates on producing a line corresponding to the observed outline of an object or figure.
Contrapposto: from the Italian for “set opposite,” designating a figure pose in which the body is twisted on its vertical axis, with the shoulders and hips at a pronounced angle.
Convention: an agreement or customary manner of doing something.
Co-opt: to take over or adopt, often thereby rendering an oppositional or critical individual or group and their position(s) less potent.
Craft: the skill which goes into a work; as applied to the material results of such skills, the term is often used to separate certain genres of aesthetic production (often in connection with something usable or useful) from “Fine Art.”
Critic: in relation to art, a person who describes and evaluates, or otherwise judges artworks according to some criteria; somewhat distinct from a Connoisseur, who asserts a sensitivity to aesthetic value and an ability to judge works for their position within the history of art; again distinct from practitioners of Art History (see Art).
Critique: the production of a critic (professional or otherwise); properly, this is a combination of description and judgment.
Cubism: a movement in painting that flourished mainly in Paris in the first decades of the twentieth century, led by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque (and greatly influenced by Paul Cezanne) that revolved around a (varying) set of principles for the geometric and coloristic abstraction of observed forms.
CE: a non-denominational abbreviation for “Current Era,” used in place of the Christian A.D. (Anno Domini, Latin for Year of our Lord), or dates following on the Christian year 1, i.e. the putative date of the birth of Jesus Christ (See also BCE).
Dada: a movement in visual art, literature, dance, and theatre that flourished in various urban centers around Europe (including Zurich, Berlin and Paris) following the First World War and that cultivated an “Anti-Art” aesthetic and more generally an absurdist stance designed to question and undercut contemporary aesthetic conventions.
Daguerreotype: the earliest form of commercial photographic print, developed in the mid-nineteenth century in Paris by Louis J. M. Daguerre, which fixes a positive image on a copper plate coated with silver iodide when developed with mercury vapor.
Decoration: something which adds beauty, distinct from an object’s purely representational or functional qualities.
Degenerate: a term used by Germany’s National Socialist (Nazi) Party in the 1930s and 1940s to designate artists and artworks that showed symptoms of moral and social decline.
Design: related to composition as the overall arrangement of an artwork’s elements, particularly in the usage of Italian Renaissance aesthetics, in which the term Disegno applied especially to a work’s formal qualities; the term also applies more narrowly to the formal aspects of functional objects.
Documentary: anything designed to convey effectively the factual record on some topic (most often used of films); Documentation is often the only material product of much conceptual and performance art that centers on a transitory event.
Dolmen: a structure of large vertical stones supporting one or more horizontally, found largely in northern France and southern England, produced mainly during the third and second millennia BCE; Stonehenge in England is perhaps the best known example of such a structure.
Draw: to mark lines and shapes on a surface (though not necessarily to produce a likeness). Insofar as drawing concerns mainly line, shape and form, it is considered distinct from painting, which concerns color and area (though the media used are also important to such distinctions, which are at best inexact).
Dry Point: a print technique in which a plate is incised with a pointed stylus in order to collect the ink, which is then transferred (typically) to dampened paper on receiving the impress of the plate. This is distinct from engraving only insofar as dry point applies largely to plates that have been previously etched in acid.
Duecento: from the Italian for “two hundred,” designating the twelfth century (i.e. “one-thousand two hundreds”).
Dye: color with pigments absorbed into some material, usually a fabric (including paper).
Edition: the full set of a run of prints of a given work (including, in this sense, of a particular version of a book).
Egg Tempera: a technique in painting that uses water and egg yolk as the medium to carry the pigment, usually applied to a wood board prepared with a white ground.
Egyptian: in the usage of this site, ancient art and architecture produced generally in the lands along the Nile River between the Mediterranean and present-day Sudan and between the third millennium BCE and the first century CE.
Ekphrasis: from the Greek for “description,” writing that proposes to give a verbal rendition of something visual, whether real or imagined, typically with the intent of inciting a mental image of a missing scene or object (often artworks) in a reader (or auditor).
Emblem: generally, an object or image that stands symbolically for a quality, action, state or class; more specifically, a drawing expressing a moral fable or allegory.
Empiricism: the philosophical stance that all human concepts and knowledge are derived ultimately from sense experience.
Engraving: a form of intaglio printmaking in which a plate (typically of metal) is manually cut unto using a Graver to make grooves into which ink can then be trapped and transferred onto paper (or other support) as a print.
Enlightenment: this term generally designates a period in European intellectual history, also known as the “Age of Reason,” beginning in the seventeenth and peaking in the eighteenth century (and thus largely coincident with the art historical period of the Baroque). The highest Enlightenment ideal was the independence of reason – whether from religious superstition, arbitrary authority or inherited custom. Exemplary figures (among many others) include Voltaire, Immanuel Kant, and Thomas Jefferson.
Entablature: that portion of a Classical building above the columns, including the architrave, frieze and cornice.
Eros: a Greek term, it names romantic or physical love, as well as the mythological son of Aphrodite, goddess of love, and Ares, god of war (Cupid, Venus, and Mars in their Roman appellations); hence Erotic art deals generally with sexual excitation and pleasure.
Etching: a form of intaglio printmaking in which a plate (typically of metal) is coated with some manner of Ground, i.e. a substance that resists the action of an acid that is used to incise the plate where the ground has been removed in order to make an image. Aquatint etching uses a ground in the form of a fine powder to make grey tones, the technique of dry-point, akin to engraving, is also often applied to etched plates.
Evangelist: one of the four writers of the Gospels of the Christian Bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, sometimes represented in (particularly Medieval and Renaissance) artworks by their conventional symbols: respectively, a man (or angel), a lion, a calf (or ox) and an eagle.
Expressionism: generally, any art form concerned mainly with conveying an artist’s emotions. More specifically, the term has come to be used particularly of various movements in later-nineteenth and twentieth century art that used highly distorted and exaggerated forms and colors (including complete abstraction), often in connection with techniques of handling media that emphasize an artist’s physical gestures in drawing or painting. Examples of “expressionistic” painters (in both sense of the term) include (among many others) Vincent Van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Jackson Pollock, and Francis Bacon.
Façade: the principle front or ‘face’ of a building, usually considered a primary marker of the building’s architectural style.
Facture: an adopted French word for describing the manner in which a painting is made, especially concerning the quality of its surface, and hence of the handling of the paint.
Fete: French for a festival or entertainment (typically, though not always, of a large scale).
Fetish: a term derived from Portuguese sailors’ word for small objects worshipped by inhabitants of the Guinea coast, now designating any thing irrationally revered, held in awe or fear, or exciting sexual feelings.
Field: in art, this can be the actual surface on which marks or images are made; the encompassing background of an image (i.e. the apparent surface or area of the image); or a (relatively) flat area within an image.
Figure: in art, generally the form of anything that an artist depicts against a background, i.e. the subject of an image; more specifically, the term usually denotes the human form, and most often in its entirety.
Figurative: in art, representational, or more generally, images that seemingly depict objects (whether existing, recognizable or not); figurative language is that which uses metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, or other non-literal forms of speech to express one thing in terms of another.
Fine Art: a term used to distinguish artworks considered to have rare and refined quality, often considered - by those who make such judgments - to be more worthy of preservation and study than “popular” or “low” art.
Finish: in painting or sculpture, the degree to which a surface has been worked, and hence the quality of that surface in material terms.
First Amendment: passed by Congress in 1791 in qualification of the main body of the U.S. Constitution, it reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Certain restrictions to these rights are, however, generally upheld by courts, including, in the case of speech, those against slander, hate, defamation, or perjury, for example.
Flourished, (fl.): indicates dates or specific time periods within which an artist did their most important work, particularly when exact birth and death dates are unknown.
Focal Point: that which in an image forms the center of interest or attention, whether through purely formal means or through the specific meaning it has within the image and/or for viewers.
Folio: a book or manuscript that consists of large sheets (around a foot or more in height) of paper folded once to make the sequence of pages; the term may also be used to indicate one such page in a volume, with its Verso being the page seen on the right hand side of a two-page spread, and Recto the opposite side (i.e. seen on the left of the subsequent spread).
Foreground: in a picture, that which appears closest to the viewer.
Foreshortening: a way of representing an object as seen along its axis, often such that it appears to be approaching or receding from a viewer.
Form: something that has or is represented as having three dimensions (as distinct from a shape, which has two).
Formal: in art, used to indicate an analytical approach that describes all those features of a work that are purely structural as opposed to representational or intrinsically meaningful, i.e. aspects such as color, value, dimension, line, shape, texture, mass, volume and the like.
Found: in art, elements that are encountered and incorporated fully-formed into a work, sometimes themselves forming the whole work altogether, whether displayed singly or in composition.
Fragment: a piece of a work, physically separated from a whole.
Fresco: from the Italian for fresh, a technique in painting in which pigment is diluted in water and then applied directly to new coats of wall plaster such that the color becomes fast within the surface when the plaster has dried.
Gallery: a room, building or entire institution in which artworks are displayed for viewing and/or sale; the word derives from Medieval Latin galilaea, the far end or “porch” of a church (so named after Galilee, the north end of Palestine, in Hebrew, galil hagoyim, or place of the goys, i.e. unbelievers).
Genre: in painting and graphic arts, images which depict scenes of common daily life, which were particularly popular and important in the art of seventeenth century Holland; more broadly the term designates a category of artworks based on conventions of style or subject, as, for example, portraits, landscapes and still lifes in painting, or romances, westerns and detective novels in popular fiction.
Geometry: in art, any aspect of shape or form that displays or suggests the elements of spatial mathematics, such as straight or regularly curved lines, triangles, squares (among shapes) or pyramids and cubes (among forms). Hence, Geometric art is that which concerns itself directly with such shapes and forms.
Gestalt: from the German for form, configuration, or appearance, designates a whole that recognizably has parts, but can only be experienced as an indivisible unity (rather than synthesized through a prior analysis of its parts). The term was given currency in English by way of the school of psychology led by Christian von Ehrenfels in the early twentieth century holding that the basic elements of human perception are gestalts.
Gesture: as applied to the human figure in artworks, their posture or manner of bodily expression; as applied to artistic practices, the sense of an artist’s manner of wielding tools, as in the gesture suggested by a brush or chisel stroke.
Gilt: covered in gold, typically of thinly beaten sheets.
Gloriole: literally a scrap of glory, one of a number of terms designating the lighted area around depictions of a sacred or otherwise honored subject’s head, including also Halo and Nimbus; the related term Mandorla signifies an oval or almond-shaped space around an entire figure, most often of Christ.
Gothic: this term now designates a stylistic period in Western European art and architecture, especially France and England, from the twelfth to the sixteenth century (with geographic variations in timing). The word gothic refers specifically to the Germanic tribe of northern Europe, and was thence applied (first by Giorgio Vasari) to trends in northern European art and architecture, particularly the large cathedrals built in France in the twelfth century at St. Denis and Chartres and characterized by pointed arches, flying buttresses and the expansive, lofty interior spaces and massive though intricate stained glass windows they made possible. An “International Gothic” style developed later in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, amalgamating artistic trends in northern and central Europe and Italy, and noted for its increased use of naturalistic modeling, investigations of rationalized perspective, and a novel richness and vividness of detail, ornament and color in painting.
Graffiti: the plural form of graffito, the Italian for mark or scribble, the term has come to designate writings or artworks made on public surfaces, often in defiance of prohibitions against it, as a form of social and political protest and as a practice outside established institutions of art.
Graphic: images that are especially linear in character, such as drawing, and/or those made through a printing process (rather than painted), such as lithography, etching, monoprinting, and woodcutting.
Graver: See Engraving.
Grisaille: a style of painting that uses monochrome tints and shades to suggest form and depth, often to simulate relief sculptures or carved modeling in paintings of architectural elements; also names a kind of paint able to be fired onto glass.
Halo: a lighted (often gilt) area depicted around the head of a sacred or otherwise honored personage; see Gloriole.
Hatching: a series of roughly parallel strokes in a drawing, generally used to indicate the orientation of planes on a form to suggest its rounded plasticity.
Hieratic: generally, relating and appropriate to sacred persons or duties; also designates a style in art that bespeaks adherence to religious styles or conventional depictions or methods.
History: as a genre in painting, an image that deals with scenes or episodes from the past (though typically distinct from images of sacred events that have mainly devotional import).
Horizon: the line that designates where the ground and sky appear to meet in a landscape image, or, alternatively, would so appear if not obscured or made indistinct by intervening objects and topographical irregularities. In linear perspective, the vanishing point is typically situated on the Horizon Line, insofar as this line indicates the level of the eyes of the viewer of the depicted scene.
Hue: a color; see Color.
Humanism: a concern for that which is specifically human, as opposed to the divine (or, less often, to the animal); and for humanity in general, rather than particular individuals. More specifically, the term indicates a mode of thought and practice considered to have strengthened during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Europe, especially with the renewed interest in (pre- and non-Christian) Greek and Roman art and literature, and attempts to reformulate religious doctrines and practices in light of Protestant criticisms of the Roman church.
Humanities: those broad areas of study that are not self-consciously natural or social scientific in orientation, including most branches of literature, philosophy, and theology. (In the usage of Shimer College, this designation includes also visual and musical arts.)
Icon: from the Greek (eikon) for likeness or image, generally an image that typifies and/or inspires devotion to the depicted subject. More specifically, it designates images of sacred persons and events in Byzantine religious art; and also has come to name small visual symbols used in personal computing. Iconoclasm is literally the breaking of images, so called from a movement in the eighth and ninth century Byzantine empire that attempted to destroy and further bar representational imagery in sacred places on grounds that they promoted idolatry. Iconography is the depiction of a subject by an image or group of images; it may also designate the study of the intended meaning of an image or group of images by way of what is depicted and in what manner. This is distinct from Iconology in that the latter deals primarily with the study of icons, in whatever sense, particularly as they function symbolically, though not necessarily in ways intended by their authors. Iconostasis: a screen that separates the sanctuary from the main part of an Eastern Catholic church and that bears sacred icons.
Idea: from the Greek eidos, meaning a visible image, form or shape; typically, the term suggests a mental conception, image or notion. In Platonic philosophy, it designates an immaterial, universal, and eternal pattern or type of any class of thing, of which objects of sense are imperfect copies. This philosophical stance more generally falls under the term Idealism, i.e. that the objects of our external perception are in reality immaterial ideas. Such ideas might be mental constructs particular to human being, as Immanuel Kant argued; alternatively, reality as a whole might be ideal in the sense of its being an fundamentally an object of conscious in itself, as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel maintained.
Idiom: a style or manner of speech or expression more generally, often distinguished by peculiarities of history, culture, region or demographic variables.
Idol: an image or object worshipped as the embodiment of special qualities, typically a deity or divinity; the worship of idols ("graven images") is forbidden in all the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), though Christianity tends to be the least restrictive in its allowances for representations of sacred persons and things.
Illumination: in art, the practice of illustrating books with designs and decorations (whether abstract, “floriated" i.e. floral, or “historiated,” i.e. with images of persons and scenes).
Illusion: something that appears to be what it is not, and often intended so to deceive.
Illustration: in art, an image that purports to make visible, or simply to ornament, the sense or meaning of a text, particularly as an aid to the reader’s interest or understanding.
Image: a material depiction or mental impression of something, most often in a representational sense, though not always considered clear or distinct.
Imago: in ancient Rome, a wax portrait of an ancestor; in psychoanalysis, the subjective, subconsciously formed idea or image of someone that continues to influence one’s feelings, attitudes and behavior.
Imitation: the practice of copying or making a likeness of something, whether in actions, images, sounds or other forms of expression.
Impasto: visibly thick and manipulated paint, or the marks visible in paint from strokes of a brush or other tool.
Impressionism: a movement in painting that flourished in the mid- to late-nineteenth century in France, characterized by its practitioners’ interest in recording the visual aspects of things under different conditions of atmosphere and lighting, and marked often by a visibly gestural handling of media and liberal use of bright and contrasting color. Key figures include Camille Pisarro, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, and Pierre Renoir.
Index: in semiotics, a sign whose meaning derives from the connection of one thing with another through a cause and effect relationship, such as footprints being the index of a certain animal’s prior presence, or as the “index” hand of a watch signals the passage of time. In art, an indexical mark or object is one that signifies the action of an artist, such as the brushstroke of an abstract expressionist painter, or the presence of a found or “ready-made” object being the index of an artist’s activity in choosing and displaying it.
Intaglio: any form of printmaking in which an image is incised into a plate, or Matrix (typically of metal), and then filled with ink and transferred by pressing or rubbing the plate onto another surface (usually paper). Etching (including aquatint), engraving, dry point, and mezzotint are all forms of intaglio, as distinct from relief and planographic printmaking (such as woodcuts and lithography, respectively).
Istoria: in Leon Battista Alberti’s treatise On Painting, the term designates the entire impression made by a work of art, starting with its subject matter, but also incorporating the manner of its treatment in terms of Disegno and Compositio, i.e. drawing, design and composition, such that the most powerful, if subtle, effects of meaning and interest are achieved.
Jambs: the vertical posts of a doorway or window frame; used as well of the walls that slant towards a doorway. In the portals of Gothic cathedrals the jambs are sculptures. At Chartres Cathedral, for example, these are the sculptures on the left and right of the doorways or portals. The sculpture or post in the center of a doorway is the trumeau.
Japonaiserie: a French word to describe something characteristically Japanese, or perhaps better, in short, “japaneseness”; hence an art work in or influenced by a style so considered. Woodcuts from Japan and especially those of Hokusai were known in Paris in the mid-nineteenth century. The Impressionists were fascinated by the form, color and perspective in these works.
Journeyman: The title for a worker or artist who has finished an apprenticeship and qualified to work as a day laborer in the shop or studio of a Master.
Jugendstil; A German word meaning the style of youth. It is a European art movement of the 1890s also known as Art Nouveau. It is a style associated with intricate ironwork decoration, often in the manner of twining plants. Gustav Klimt was a leading figure of this style in central Europe.
Keystone: the middle or topmost stone in an arch or vault that locks the others together.
Kinetic Art: Kinetic derives from the Greek for motion, and Kinetic Art uses the movement of objects and light (both natural and artificial) to create art works. A mobile is an example of kinetic art.
Kore, Korai (and Kouros, kouroi): Greek (singular and plural) for maiden and boy, referring to sculptures of the same. Kouros and Kouroi also refer to archaic Greek sculptures of nude male figures from around 600 BCE. The statues are almost twice life-size; arms are rigid, the hair or wig is highly stylized, and the left foot is forward.
Labyrinth: a structure of one or many interconnecting passages; more generally, a complex construction; similar to a maze, though the latter include blind passages without issue, whereas labrynths have only one passage and end. The most famous labrynth was that designed and built (mythically) by Daedulus on Crete to house the Minotaur. Herodotus in his Histories compared the immense labyrinth above Lake Moeris in the Fayum in Egypt to the Pyramids. Labyrinths were often represented in mosaic in the floors of Gothic cathedrals, and are a regular feature of formal gardens in the Western tradition.
Lamentation: The mourning of the Virgin Mary and Christ’s followers over Jesus’ body after his crucifixion and the removal of his body or its descent from the cross, which is also called the deposition
Land Art: a form of art in which the landscape is inseparable from the art work. Works are not placed in a setting; the setting and the work are one. These works can be vast, and are typically unsuited for display except through documentary forms in an art museum. Land art began to appear in the 1960s. Key figures include Robert Smithson and Walter de Maria.
Landscape: A painting or photograph representing a view of some scene on land, and thus distinguished from a seascape.
Lapis Lazuli: A precious stone of a fine blue color. It has been used in jewelry and for a variety of decorative purposes. A spectacular example is in the columns of St. Isaac’s of St. Petersburg. Lapis was ground up to make up the pigment called ultramarine blue. This color was the most expensive item in Medieval and early modern European painting, in part for the fact that it was for centuries mined only in the mountains of Persia (now Afghanistan). It has long been replaced in paint pigments by an artificial chemical product.
Last Judgment: The second coming of Christ, depicted in detail in the Book of Revelations, when he will judge the living and the dead and determine where each individual will spend eternity: either in Heaven or Hell.
Liberal Arts: the traditional academic disciplines used in educational institutions in late antiquity and the European Middle Ages. These consisted of the Trivia (grammar, rhetoric and dialectic) and the Quadrivia (arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy). These studies were considered the preliminaries to advanced study. The Virgin Mary is the patron of the liberal arts.
Line: A mark that defines a shape, a contour, and, more generally, marks that make up the design of a picture. Lines are key to establishing structure and movement in a picture.
Linear: an adjective describing lines that clearly indicate a shape or a form; this term may be contrasted with painterly. The contrast of the linear and the painterly (malerisch) was developed by the art historian Heinrich Wölfflin.
Linear perspective: a pictorial convention designed to suggest spatial depth by placing objects drawn with diminishing size along and within converging sets of straight lines, all arranged to fix the illusion of a coherently receding space. Variously complex illusions of the viewer’s point of view can be constructed depending on the number of “points” toward which lines within the picture plane “vanish,” from one (in the simplest and perhaps most common case) up to six. Linear perspective is a species of anamorphosis. See Aerial perspective.
Lintel: a horizontal beam that bridges the upper part of a door or window. These are often decorated.
Lithography: a printing process in which an image is represented on a flat surface that has been treated so that some areas retain ink, others repel it. Originally the flat surface was limestone, but now a variety of metallic or plastic sheets are used. The image may be reverse drawn on the surface or drawn directly on a specially treated paper and then transferred to the surface. The technique has been frequently used for posters. Unlike intaglio printing (e.g. engraving, woodcutting or etching), lithography does not require cuts into the printed surface, and represents an improvement over such older forms insofar as it allows for a longer run or edition of prints before the image deteriorates.
Loggia: A roofed gallery or arcade usually along one side of a building and open to the weather (on occasion a loggia is freestanding).
Lunette: a half or crescent moon shape; a semi-circular, crescent shaped window or surface.
Madonna: Formerly an Italian title for a married woman. Also, and usually preceded by a the, the Madonna refers to the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ.
Mandala: in East Asian art a design that symbolizes the universe—there are several of these patterns.
Mandorla: an Italian word meaning almond. It is an almond shaped oval that surrounds the entire body of the resurrected Christ or the Virgin, unlike a halo, which circles only the head (and is a more common sign of holiness or divinity).
Manifesto: A declaration of principles, intentions, ambitions. In the context of modern art, a manifesto is a statement by an artist or a group about the meaning of their work and what defines it. Perhaps the most famous are those of the Futurists, written by Filippo Marinetti, and of the Surrealists, by Andre Breton.
Mannerism: A term developed in the twentieth century to characterize aspects of Italian art of the 1520s to the 1590s that belonged neither to the Renaissance or the Baroque. These works usually contain some distortion of perspective, an elegant elongation of parts of the human figure and often adopt some unsettling colors. The name comes from the Italian word maniera, meaning style or fashion.
Master: A member of a guild who was allowed to teach apprentices and to set up his own shop or studio. When the artist of a particular Medieval painting is not known, the work is often referred as being by the “Master of the,” followed by a specific name of the work (often an altarpiece) is used; this may refer to its subject matter, location, or current owner.
Material culture: the objects or the physical artifacts of a culture or people, distinguishing manufactured items in contrast to written documents or records.
Mausoleum: a large, imposing tomb. The name comes from Mausolus, a king of Caria; his tomb, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, was regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Medium: on of the various materials used and creative methods involved in artistic production, media being the plural form (though this latter term is often used more specifically of the various forms in which news is conveyed). In the visual arts, the artist must use some physical means or medium to realize an idea, though the conceptual art of the latter half of the twentieth century came to challenge even this idea. In painting, medium may refer to the the liquid that carries the pigments, for example, linseed oil for oil paints, or egg yolk for egg tempera; this is sometimes also called the base or vehicle. Longstanding sculptural media include marble, terra cotta and bronze, for example. Mixed media works use a combination of materials typically or traditionally developed separately.
Medieval: A period of European history between classical antiquity and the Renaissance. It is traditionally dated from 476 CE, with the deposition of Romulus Augustulus, the last Roman Emperor of the West, to 1453 when Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks.
Metaphor: sometimes used to refer to figurative language in general, metaphor specifically is a figure of speech in which a term or name is transferred to something to which it is not strictly applicable. It literally means to transfer. Hence, for example, “the blooming maid” transfers the idea of flowers coming into beauty to a young woman. This is distinct from a simile, in which the comparative terms as or like are left in the phrase, as in “a maid blooming like a flower.”
Metonymy: a figure of speech in which a word or idea is used to stand for something larger or more complex of which it is a part or connected with somehow. Hence, for example, journalists often refer to the executive branch of the United States and the administration currently holding its offices simply as “the White House.”
Metope: a space between the triglyphs (the beam ends) of a Doric frieze.
Metric: a standard of measure, often specifically used of the system of measure based on decimal divisions developed in Europe, and especially France, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Mezzotint: an intaglio printmaking method of engraving a copper or steel plate by scraping and pitting it with finely edged and pointed tools to produce graduated grey shades for the depiction of light and shadow. It was widely used in the eighteenth century, but like many older print methods has been superseded by photography.
Middle ground: the area between the foreground and background in a painting, drawing or photograph, sometimes also referred to as “middle distance.”
Mihrab: an arch or niche, flat or concave in the wall of a mosque, for example, which indicates the direction of prayer (qibla) for a Moslem.
Minaret: a tower attached to a mosque, often used for the call to prayer.
Minbar: a pulpit in a mosque. They are often made of wood, sometimes of stone, and are frequently decorated with carvings or glazed ceramics. The Friday sermon is frequently given from the minbar during communal worship at a congregational mosque.
Model: (n.) in the visual arts, some thing that serves as the subject of a representation, often used of persons sitting for portraits (i.e. a “sitter”), or of the person depicted bodily in nudes and other genres focusing on the depiction of human figures; (v.t.) to give the appearance of three-dimensional appearance to an object; also, to use some pliant material, such as clay, to make representation of some physical object or simply to shape a material with three dimensions.
Modern: of the present, or, increasingly, of recent times, in its use as a designator of a cultural movement that dominated most of the twentieth century. In fact, the historical limits of the modern are a matter of considerable debate, though scholars use the term most broadly to designate some period roughly between the limits of the early sixteenth century to the present or some point in the mid- to late-twentieth century. The term post-modern has been established by those arguing that the latter limit on the modern represents an era of historically significant cultural shifts. Modern is thus usefully distinguished from “contemporary” insofar as the latter retains its designation of the historical present now lost for many in the former term.
Monument: a structure, a statue, or other physical marker intended to commemorate an event or a life, which may over time acquire its own status as historically significant.
Mosaic: a design made by setting colored objects in mortar. It is one of the oldest forms of decoration. Early mosaics were typically made on floors, though in both the Byzantine East and in Western Europe the technique was used on walls through the thirteenth century, when it was replaced by fresco.
Mosque: Moslem house of worship.
Motif: a repeated figure or design in a decorative scheme or building.
Movement: in static visual arts, the perceptual effect or illusion of movement, effected by the elements of an image that lure the eye to perceive change. The way the eye views an image can be described as a movement.
Multiple: These are copies made by such processes as lithography or seriography. These are not exact reproductions nor are they limited in numbers as are engravings.
Mural: a picture or decoration applied directly to a wall or ceiling.
Muse: one of a series Greek deities of the fine arts and other intellectual pursuits. They are the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (Memory). There are traditionally nine of them, but their names and what they inspire varied in antiquity. The traditional list is Calliope, the muse of heroic epic; Clio, of history; Euterpe, of the flute; Terpsichore, of dance and lyric poetry; Erato, of hymns; Melpomene, of tragedy; Thalia, of comedy; Polyhymnia, of mime; and, Urania, of astronomy. More generally from antiquity do we inherit the idea that the Muses inspire the creative artist. Places were the Muses were worshipped were called Museums (from the Greek mouseion). The most famous of these was the Museum of Alexandria – importantly distinct from that city’s renowned library.
Myths: the traditional narratives of any culturally bound group, typically exemplified in stories and/or characters that have emotional and cognitive resonance with such a group and that represents its values and ideals.
Naïve art: art produced by an individual who has no formal training. The work and background of the naïve artist contrasts with the training and career paths followed by the traditional artists of that society.
Nave: the central aisle of a church
NEH: The National Endowment for the Humanities. An agency of the United States government that promotes learning and research in the humanities.
Naturalism: the factual representation of an object. Naturalism aims to reproduce an object accurately. In painting, this is distinct from the more specific term Realism, an art historical movement which criticized the idealizing strand of nineteenth century academic art and sought rather to promote themes and subjects depicting everyday human existence.
Nature morte: French for still-life.
Neo-classicism: an artistic movement dating roughly from the mid-eighteenth century to the early nineteenth century. It sought to revive the aesthetics of Greek and Roman antiquity, but differed from previous revivals of the classical past in that there was a deliberate effort to copy and imitate objects and interiors of the ancients, especially those found in Rome, Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Niche: a recess in a wall, sometimes for a statue.
Nostalgia: a longing for things no longer present, coined in the seventeenth century originally to mean homesick, from Greek terms nostos, or homecoming and algos, or distress.
Object: a material thing; something perceived by the senses, or to which intense thought or feeling is directed; opposed to a subject, i.e. the thing or person sensing, thinking or feeling.
Oil painting: since the mid-sixteenth century, the most usual medium for painting. Pigments are mixed with the slow-drying medium of oil and applied to a canvas or on a wooden panel treated with gesso, a mixture of plaster and glue.
Optics: the scientific study of light and vision.
Order: a specific style of classical architecture identified by the type of column. An order is characterized by a column, which has a base, a shaft and a capital, and by its entablature, the name for the parts above the column. These include the frieze, architrave, metope, triglyph, guttae and the abacus. The five classical orders are Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Tuscan, and Composite.
Orientalism: the use in an image of something characteristic of the arts of cultures from northern Africa and the eastern end of the Mediterranean through the southern half of the continent of Asia.
Ornament: something that decorates or adorns.
Paint: a liquid (i.e. a “medium” or “vehicle,” including an adhesive “binder”) mixed with colored pigments which can be applied to a surface.
Painterly: a style of painting in which shapes are distinguished by color rather than line or contour.
Paleolithic: of the Stone Age, a period within the Pleistocene epoch, during which human ancestors used tools made from stones, from about two and a half million to about ten thousand years BCE.
Palette: a board on which an artist mixes colors; often there is a thumbhole for ease of holding. More generally palette refers to the range of colors or hues a painter has used in a painting or group of paintings. A painter using few hues is said to have a limited palate; a cold palette would mean a predominance of blues, a warm palette means a preponderance of reds.
Paper: a (typically) thin mass of plant fibers in sheets or rolls that serves to bear marks from various media (paints, graphite, charcoal, etc.) and may serve as a background to a picture made from such marks.
Parergon: a Greek word that means subordinate, beside the main subject. In The Truth in Painting, Jacques Derrida extends a brief mention of this term in Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment (wherein it designates an artwork’s frame or enclosing ornamentation) into an extended examination of questions as to where an artwork ends and its surroundings begin.
Passage: in visual art, a segment or well-defined but not isolated area of a larger work.
Pediment: a low pitched gable above a classical style building. A pediment is the triangular space over doors and windows of a building influenced by Greek architecture.
Performance Art: often planned, sometimes spontaneous events which may occur in an art gallery but can take place anywhere. Performances often involve the activity spectators as well as artists. While the performance may be recorded, the aim is typically the event rather than any product or commodity that can be sold. Happening was the name used for performances of the Fluxus group in the early 1960s, but performances as art date back at least as far as the Cabaret Voltaire of the Dada movement in the period just following the first World War. Key figures include Joseph Beuys, John Cage (a musician), Vito Acconci, Yoko Ono, and Laurie Anderson.
Period: an extended interval of time, understood usually within the context of an identifiable geographic region, characterized by a specific set of cultural, economic, social or technological practices.
Perspective: a method used to render the illusion of depth on a flat surface. There are several methods (including linear and aerial, defined above). In Art and Visual Perception Rudolf Arnheim uses the term isometric perspective to describe pictures in which a system of parallel lines (i.e. without vanishing toward a horizon) run diagonally through the picture to indicate the limits of depicted objects; this method is used in much Chinese and Japanese art.
Petroglyph: a drawing scratched or otherwise etched into a rock.
Phallic: belonging to or resembling a phallus. According to Luce Irigaray, the phallus is primarily a visual object, erect and in clear view; she contrasts this to the vagina which is unseen, lacking in complete form, and whose metaphor is touch.
Phenomenology: the philosophic study of human experience in which separate analytical considerations of objective reality and subjective responses to it are, during the phenomenological investigation, left out, or rather temporarily set aside or “bracketed.”
Photograph: literally “light-drawing,” the recording and reproducing of images on light sensitive material using one of various chemical processes. The first photographs date from the early nineteenth century.
Pictograph: a hieroglyph or pictorial representation of a word or idea. Pictography is the study of writing systems that use these symbols.
Picture: a visual representation or image on a flat surface. A picture may, for example, be painted, drawn, photographed, collaged, or otherwise produced by some combination or modification of such means.
Pier: a strong, solid support of a building that may be either round or square in cross section.
Pigment: a substance, organic or synthetic, used in coloring, often in the form of fine powders mixed within some suspending medium or vehicle.
Plane: that which adds breadth to a line; a level surface. Plane surface may be contrasted with depth. In sculpture, planes define the surfaces of solid elements, in contrast to empty spaces between. In On Painting, Leon Battista Alberti considers painting first as a matter of determining the proper way of depicting objects’ planar surfaces as they appear to the painter’s eye.
Plastic: that which can be modeled, or, alternatively, can be depicted as having three dimensions.
Porch: a covered structure open on the front and sides connected to an entrance into an adjoined building.
Portal: a large and imposing doorway or entrance.
Portrait: a two- or three-dimensional representation of a person (or group), concerned mainly with faithful recording of physiognomy, identifying its subject(s) as unique historical individual(s).
Prehistoric: any time or thing that predates recorded (pictorial or literary) history, generally covering anything older than the second millennium BCE.
Primary colors: the three colors red, blue and yellow. All other colors are obtainable from these primaries. Secondaries such as purple (red and blue) or green (blue and yellow) are made from two primaries. Tertiaries are made from mixing two secondary colors. White and black are not primary colors.
Print: an impression, picture, or a design from a plate, block, stone, type face, photographic image or other medium fixed to a sheet of paper, cloth, or similar plane surface.
Proportion: the relation of the part to the whole. In art, it may refer to the search for the lengths of parts of the human body to the size of the whole person. The search for such rules, in written form, go back to Vitruvius. The Golden Section or Golden Ratio is a proportion in which a whole line is unevenly divided, and the smaller part is to the larger, in the same ration as the larger part is to the whole.
Provenance: the record of ownership of a work of art, its origin, derivation and pedigree. It tells who owned a work; an Attribution identifies the artist or artists who produced a work.
Public: the community or people who receive art and are generally self-consciously concerned with its character over time and space. The public may be distinguished from an audience, who are those receiving an artwork at a given, specific place and/or time.
Qibla: the direction of prayer towards the Kaaba in Mecca; sometimes in a mosque referred to as the qibla wall.
Quattrocento: from the Italian for “four hundred”; designating the fifteenth century (i.e. the “fourteen hundreds”). This Italian term is commonly used by art historians writing in English about Italian art, and specifically the period often termed the “High Renaissance.”
Realism: (with a capital ‘R’) refers to mid-nineteenth century art works that deliberately represented wretched and even ugly subjects, usually for a political reason. The term was first used to describe works of the French painter Gustave Courbet. Realism defined itself against the idealism associated with Romanticism. It is distinguished from the paintings of, for example, Velasquez, Murillo, and Caravaggio who used farmers and the members of the urban poor as models. Realism with a lower case ‘r’ may be contrasted with the ‘abstract’ in art. It is useful to distinguish realism from the desire to reproduce in an image an exact replica of something seen: such representation is commonly termed ‘naturalism’.
Recto: See Folio.
Refectory: a dining hall in a monastery, (in Italian cenacolo).
Relief: the real or apparent projection of three dimensional figures from a flat background. In sculpture, the term is used for figures raised physically above the background, protruding from it to varying degrees. Low relief (or “bas-relief”) would mean the figures scarcely project beyond the surface, as on a coin; in high relief, the figures might be almost free standing. In relief printing, the print is made using the surface of a block in relief, the parts which are to appear white being cut away.
Renaissance: one of the most fraught and debated terms in art history, this generally refers to the revival of arts and letters inspired by classical Roman and Greek models in western Europe from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries; more generally, it may refer to any revival of a previous style or culture. The Renaissance is a general term for the period between the Middle Ages and the Baroque. Historians of Europe now often avoid this term and describe this period as Early Modern Europe.
Reproduction: a copy, usually not in the same medium as the original, and one not made by the original artist. Replica is typically used to mean a very exact reproduction, though through technological means primarily, rather than through self-conscious artistry.
Resurrection: the rising of Christ to life three days after his death by crucifixion.
Roman: characteristic of Rome, and usually ancient Rome.
Romanesque: a period and style of the ninth to the twelfth century in Europe, referring generally to art and architecture made for and by Christian communities. It is generally considered to be followed by the Gothic.
Romanticism: a literary and artistic movement beginning in the late eighteenth century Europethat gave priority to subjective experience rather than subordinating that response to classical rational rules and forms. The Romantic is sometimes considered as an “Anti-Enlightenment,” insofar as it expressed anxieties about and or disaffection with the prevailing eighteenth-century celebration of reason and order; Romantic artists and thinkers tended, however, not to seek solace in a return to Christian faith and theology but instead often found inspiration in the natural world.
Rose Window: a circular window with decorated rib work about the center; a form first developed in Gothic cathedrals.
Salon: any of the annual exhibitions of artworks held in France. Often, today, the term is used negatively to describe the exhibitions of the mid-nineteenth century of traditional, formulaic art works that appealed to a wealthy, unimaginative clientele. Also, the term is often used to describe periodic gatherings of artists and intellectuals in private spaces for discussion and entertainment.
Saturation: in material color and mixtures of color, saturation describes vividness or purity of hue. A color has a high saturation when there is no admixture of any other hue, nor any white or black. Saturation is distinct from value, which refers to relative lightness and darkness.
Schema: an outline, a simplified representation. Also, a schema may be a template or pattern for ordering objects, material or ideal.
School: a group whose work shares common stylistic traits. Sometimes a work is attributed to the school of an artist when a confident attribution cannot be made. In art, the term school does not refer to a specific program or place of instruction. In Early Modern Venice, for example, a school (or scuole) was a professional company of men, often linked to an ecclesiastical body, which engaged frequently in philanthropy and patronage, without any educational role. Elsewhere in Italy these bodies would be termed companies or confraternities.
Sculpture: art in three dimensional forms, whether made by carving, chiseling, modeling or casting. While sculpture and painting are often seen as distinct arts, they have also been practiced together, as in “polychrome” painting of sculpted figures in ancient, medieval and early modern Europe, for example, as well as in recent mixtures of objects into paintings.
Semiotics: the study of signs, systems of signs and the social production of signs. It is also known as semiology. Based on the arbitrary nature of communication systems, semiotics examines how signs are organized in distinct codes. According to Charles Sanders Pierce (considered one of the founders of semiotics, along with linguist Ferdinand de Saussure), a sign (or “representamen”) can stand for something (an “object”) because there is an “interpretant” that mediates between them. Semiotics has three primary branches: syntax, or the transformation of linguistic items; semantics, or the relationships between signs and symbols in respect to meaning; and pragmatics, or the study of context in interpretation.
Sense: the function of seeing, hearing, smelling, touching or tasting.
Sfumato: an Italian word meaning smoke, describing a smooth shift in tone from light to dark in shadows on objects, as distinct from sharp or stepwise gradations of contrast. Leonardo da Vinci regarded the mastery of this effect as one of the most important for painters.
Shape: a two dimensional area, bounded by lines, distinct from form, which describes an object in three dimensions.
Sign: an outward manifestation that stands for something - and for somebody. Semiotics studies culture and views its material products and what happens in it as signs.
Space: the three dimensional field of everyday experience, often as an abstracted and featureless container of things, as distinct from “place,” which typically identifies a space in relation to other objects or experiences.
Still-life: the representation of inanimate objects in painting or photography.
Style: the summation of the distinctive features in a certain genre of art works done by an individual or a group.
Subject: that about which an art work is concerned. If an art work has a title, the viewer can use it to help identify the subject.
Symbol: something that represents something else, whether by resembling it or by being related to it through cultural associations. Often symbols are material objects or images that stand in for abstract, immaterial or complex entities or ideas.
Synaesthesia: when one type of sensation evokes another sense. For example when a sound is experienced in part as a color, or when a color prompts a sound.
Technique: a procedure by which a task is accomplished. In art this refers often to an artist’s particular manner of using her tools or medium.
Tempera: an Italian word meaning to mix. It is a painting medium in which ground pigments are mixed with egg yolk, thinned with water and applied to specially prepared wooden panels. It dries extremely quickly, making it almost impossible to change. It was widely used for panel paintings before the sixteenth century and the advent of oil paints, which are slower drying and conducive to a greater range of techniques.
Tondo: an Italian word for a circular painting.
Torso: the trunk of a human body.
Totem: an animate or inanimate object that serves as an emblem for a clan or a people; more generally, any venerated symbol.
Tracery: ornamental stone pattern work used in the upper parts of windows.
Tradition: a set of recognized customs regarded as coherent that has guided social behavior for many generations and is still relevant to the present time.
Transept: the transverse portions of a cross-shaped church. The transept usually separates the nave from the apse or the chancel.
Trecento: an Italian word meaning “three hundred”; the fourteenth century.
Triforium: the middle storey of a church; it is often a walled passageway above the main arcade, or the aisle roof.
Triptych: Traditionally an altarpiece or devotional object consisting of three parts. Often the central panel is twice the width of the side panels. Sometimes the side panels are designed to fold over the main central image. Some artists have come to use the title to refer to three related paintings.
Trompe l’oeil: A French phrase meaning “deceive the eye.” This usually refers to a painting that aims to trick the viewer into believing in the physical reality of the depicted objects.
Trumeau: the center post of a medieval portal.
Ukiyo-e: a Japanese word meaning “pictures of the floating world.” A movement in Japanese painting and print making from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Prominent artists were Masonobu, Hokusai and Hiroshige.
Ultramarine: See Lapis.
Value: the relative darkness or lightness of a color. White represents the highest value, black the lowest, and greys all possible values in between. Every hue has an inherent value (e.g. the primary blue is of lower value than the primary yellow), though they may be lightened or darkened by the addition of white, black or grey; if the latter, a pastel is the result.
Vanishing point: the point where lines bounding surfaces depicted as parallel in a picture plane meet, somewhere on the horizon line of the image.
Vault: a stone ceiling formed like arches.
Vernacular: the standard native language of a country.
Verso: See Folio.
Virtual image: an image from which rays of light appear as from a mirror; a virtual focus is a point in a mirror from which rays appear to diverge.
Visual: pertaining to the sense of sight; something producing an image in the mind.
Wabi-sabi: a Japanese word for an aesthetic centered on the acceptance of the imperfection and transience of all things.
Wash: a thin layer of diluted pigment used to increase the appearance of a shadow.
Weight: a dynamic effect in a picture created in the perception of the viewer. Rudolf Arnheim describes weight and direction as the influences on the viewer’s perception of equilibrium in a picture, achieved generally through the judicious, artistic juxtaposition of lines, shapes, colors (in all their varying, attendant dimensions), figures or objects of psychological significance, and other elements of a picture.
Woodcut: a print made from an incised block of wood on which the surface left after cutting is covered with ink and impressed onto paper or other suitable sheeted material.
X-Ray: a photograph using an x-ray. X-ray images have been used to identify what lies under the surface of a painting, including prior works or studies and sketches.
Xerography: a dry photocopying process in which an image is transferred electrically and fixed on a piece of paper or other surface.
Yellow: one of the primary colors, appearing on the spectrum between green and orange.
Zen Buddhism: a school of Buddhism that asserts enlightenment can be attained through meditative self-contemplation.
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