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Art History terms
These are all the terms from our study guides.
153
Art History
03/07/2007

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Term
Prehistory
Definition
All of human existence before the emergence of writing.
Term
Paleolithic
Definition
"Old stone age" from about 40,000 to 8000 BCE.
Term
Mesolithic
Definition
"Middle stone age" an ice age in Europe.
Term
Neolithic
Definition
"New stone age" from about 8000 to 2300 BCE.
Term
Bronze Age
Definition
Metals are used as tools and in works of art. 2300-1000 BCE.
Term
dolman
Definition
Structure of 2 or more large stones supporting a capstone.
Term
passage grave
Definition
A tomb under a cairn reached by a long narrow post and lintel passageway.
Term
post and lintel construction
Definition
An architectural system of construction with two or more vertical elements (posts) supporting a horizontal element (lintel).[image]
Term
menhir
Definition
A megalithic stone block placed in an upright position by prehistoric people.
Term
henge
Definition
A circular area enclosed by stones or wooden posts, usually bounded by a ditch and raised embankment.
Term
temple complex
Definition
Clusters of religious, administrative, and service buildings developed in each city as centers of worship and thriving businesses.
Term
cuneiform
Definition
Wedge shaped script pressed into clay tablets with a stylus.
Term
stylus
Definition
Writing instrument for cuneiform.
Term
ziggurat
Definition
A stepped pyramidal structure with a temple or shrine on top.
Term
cone mosaic
Definition
Thousands of colored cone-shaped stones or baked clay pressed like thumbtacks into wet plaster walls. These flat "hands" created shimmering, multicolored designs. Invented at Uruk.
Term
registers
Definition
Bands, lines or strips.
Term
low relief
Definition
Carved figures which project slightly.
Term
Cylinder seals
Definition
A small, cylindrical stone decorated with incised patterns. When rolled across soft clay or wax, a raised pattern or design (relief) is left, which served in Mesopotamian times an as identifying signature.
Term
high relief
Definition
Carved figures which project significantly.
Term
stela
Definition
A stone slab placed vertically and decorated with inscriptions or reliefs. Used as a grave marker or memorial.
Term
citadel
Definition
An area of a fortress or defended city place in a high, commanding spot.
Term
palace complex
Definition
A group of buildings used for living and governing by a particular ruler, usually located in a fortress or citadel
Term
crenelation
Definition
A pattern of open notches built into the top parapets and battlements of many fortified building for the purpose of defense.
Term
Column
Definition
An architectural element used for support and/or decoration.
Term
base
Definition
A slab of masonry supporting a statue or the shaft of a column (also called a plinth).
Term
shaft
Definition
The main vertical section of a column between the capital and the base, usually circular in cross section.
Term
fluting
Definition
In architecture, a decorative pattern of evenly spaced parallel vertical grooves incised on shafts of columns or columnar elements (such as pilasters).
Term
capital
Definition
The sculpted block which tops a classical column.
Term
Falcon (symbol)
Definition
Symbolizes the Egyptian God Horus.
Term
ankh
Definition
A hieroglyph signifying life, used by ancient Egyptians.
Term
scarab
Definition
Symbol associated with the creator god Atum and the rising sun. (Ancient Egypt)
Term
Wedjat
Definition
Also known as the Eye of Horace, it was symbolic of the sun and moon to the Ancient Egyptians.
Term
White Crown of Egypt
Definition
Upper Egypt.
Term
Red Crown
Definition
Lower Egypt.
Term
Ra or Amun-Ra
Definition
Sun god.
Term
Osiris
Definition
overseer of the underworld, usually portrayed as a human form.
Term
Seth
Definition
Evil brother and killer of Osiris.
Term
Isis
Definition
Osiris's wife and sister, a human.
Term
Anubis
Definition
The overseer of funerals and cemeteries, represented as a man with a jackal's head.
Term
Horus
Definition
The sky god, represented as a human body with a hawk head. He is the son of Isis and Osiris, and defeats Seth to avenge his father and become Earth King.
Term
Pictograph
Definition
A highly stylized depiction serving as a symbol for a person or object. Also: A type of writing utilizing such symbols.
Term
ground line
Definition
The flat surface everything stand on, sometimes a register.
Term
papyrus
Definition
A plant that grew in profusion along the lower Nile.
Term
canon of proportions
Definition
A set of ideal mathematical ratios in art, especially sculpture, originally applied by the Egyptians and later the ancient Greeks to measure the various parts of the human body in relation to each other.
Term
ka
Definition
The name given by ancient Egyptians to the human life force, or spirit.
Term
mastaba
Definition
A flat-topped, one-story building with slanted walls. Invented by the ancient Egyptians to mark underground tombs.
Term
serdab
Definition
In Egyptian tombs, the small room in which the ka statue was placed.
Term
Sarcophagus (sarcophagi)
Definition
A rectangular stone coffin, used by ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, and others. Often decorated with relief sculpture in side panels.
Term
necropolis
Definition
A large cemetery or burial area.
Term
rock-cut tomb
Definition
Ancient Egyptian multichambered burial site, hewn from solid rock and often thoroughly hidden. Most often found in remote cliffs and valleys of southern Egypt.
Term
engaged column
Definition
A columns attached to a background wall.
Term
colonnade
Definition
A sequence or row of columns, supporting a straight lintel (as in a porch or portico) or a series of arches (an arcade).
Term
hypostyle hall
Definition
In Egyptian architecture, a large interior gathering room of a temple complex that precedes the sanctuary. Marked by numerous rows of tall, closely spaced columns.
Term
pylon
Definition
A massive gateway formed by a pair of tapering walls of oblong shape. Erected by ancient Egyptians to mark the entrance to a temple complex.
Term
Peristyle
Definition
A surrounding colonnade in Greek architecture. A peristyle building is surrounded on the exterior by a colonnade. Also: a peristyle court is an open courtyard with the same colonnade form found on all sides.
Term
obelisk
Definition
A tall stone shaft of four-sided rectangular shape, hewn from a single block, that tapers at the top and is completed by a pyramidion. Erected by the ancient Egyptians in ceremonial spaces (such as entrances to temple complexes) as commemorative monuments.
Term
pyramidion
Definition
A pyramid-block set as the finished element atop an obelisk
Term
axial plan
Definition
A plan or design that is based on a symmetrical, linear arrangement of elements.
Term
sunken relief
Definition
When a carved image is modeled below the original surface of the background, which is not cut away.
Term
terra cotta
Definition
A medium made from clay fired over a low hear and usually left unglazed. Also: the orange-brown color typical of this medium.
Term
incising
Definition
A technique in which a design or inscription is cut into a hard surface with a sharp instrument. When on pottery, it is added before firing.
Term
rhyton
Definition
A vessel in the shape of a figure or an animal, used for drinking or pouring liquids on special occasions.
Term
gold leaf
Definition
The paper-thin sheets of hammered gold that are used in gilding. In some cases (such as Byzantine icons), also used as a ground for paintings.
Term
relieving arch
Definition
An arch built into a wall just about a post and lintel structure (such as a gate, door, or window) to help support the wall above. Relieves some of the weight on the lintel by transferring the load to the side walls.
Term
corbel, corbeling
Definition
Early roofing technique in which each course of stone projects inward slightly over the previous layer (a corbel) until all sides meet. Results in a high, narrowly pointed arch or vault. A corbel table is a table supported underneath by corbels.
Term
Beehive tomb
Definition
A type of above-ground burial place marked by an earthen mound with a rounded conical shape like a beehive.
Term
cyclopean construction
Definition
Any large-scale, monumental building project that impresses by sheer size. Based on Greek myth of giants of legendary strength. Also: a prehistoric method of building , utilizing megalithic clocks of rough-hewn stone.
Term
facade
Definition
The face or front wall of a building, usually including the main elevation.
Term
Atrium
Definition
An interior courtyard or room built with an opening in the roof, usually over a pool or garden. Most often found in Roman domestic buildings. Also: the vestibule of an Early Christian basilica-plan church, usually roofed.
Term
round arch
Definition
A semi-circular opening first used by the ancient Romans.
Term
jambs
Definition
In architecture, the vertical element found in pairs on both sides of an opening in a wall, such as a door or window.
Term
voussoirs
Definition
The oblong, wedge-shaped stone blocks used to build an arch. The topmost voussoir is called a keystone.
Term
barrel vault
Definition
A continuous semicircular vault.
Term
podium
Definition
A raised platform that acts as the foundation for a building. Most often used for Etruscan, Greek, and Roman temples.
Term
buttress, buttressing
Definition
A type of architectural support. Usually consists of a masonry pillar with a wide base built against an exterior wall to brace the wall and strengthen vaults. Acts by transferring the weight of the building form a higher point to the ground.
Term
pedestals
Definition
A platform or base supporting a sculpture or other monument. Also: the block found below the base of a classical column (or colonnade) serving to raise the entire structure off the ground.
Term
concrete
Definition
A building material invented by the Romans, which was easily poured or molded when wet, and hardened into a particularly strong and durable stone-like substance. Made primarily from lime, sand, cement, and rubble mixed with water.
Term
veneer
Definition
In architecture, the exterior facing of a building, often in decorative patterns of fine stone or brick. In decorative arts, a thin exterior layer for decoration laid over wooden objects or furniture. Made of fine materials such as rare wood, ivory, metal, and semiprecious stones.
Term
exedrae (exedrae)
Definition
In architecture, a semicircular niche. On a small scale, often used as decoration, whereas larger exedrae can form interior spaces (such as an apse).
Term
verism
Definition
A style in which artists concern themselves with capturing the exterior likeness of an object or person, usually by rendering its visible details in a finely executed, meticulous manner.
Term
basilica
Definition
A large rectangular building with an open interior space. Often built with a clerestory and side aisles separated from the center space by colonnades. Used in Romans times as centers for administration or justice and later adapted to the Christian church. A basilica-plan structure incorporates the essential elements of this plan.
Term
intuitive perspective
Definition
A method of representing three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface by the use of formal elements that act to give the impression of recession. Does not rely on scientific principles or mathematics.
Term
drillwork
Definition
In sculpture, the decorative effect created by the use of the drill. Also: the technique of using a drill for the creation of certain effects in sculpture.
Term
still life
Definition
A type of painting that has as its subject inanimate objects (such as food, dishes, fruit, or flowers).
Term
rotunda
Definition
Any building (or part thereof) constructed in a circular (or sometimes polygonal) shape, usually producing a large open space crowned by a dome.
Term
coffers
Definition
A recessed decorative panel that, with many other similar ones, is used to decorate ceiling or vaults. The use of coffers is called coffering.
Term
oculus (oculi)
Definition
In architecture, a circular opening. Oculi are usually found either as windows or at the apex of a dome. When at the top of a dome, it is either open to the sky or covered by a decorative exterior lantern.
Term
drum
Definition
The wall that supports a dome. Also: a segment of the circular shaft of a column.
Term
broken pediment
Definition
A variation on the traditional pediment, with an open space at the center of the topmost angle and/or the horizontal cornice. Often filled with a decorative element, such as a cartouche.
Term
foreshortening
Definition
The illusion created on a flat painted or drawn surface in which figures and objects appear to recede or project sharply into space. Often accomplished according to the rules of perspective.
Term
trompe l'oeil
Definition
A manner of representation in which the appearance of natural space and objects is re-created with the express intention of fooling the eye of the viewer, who may be convinced that the subject actually exists as three-dimensional reality
Term
syncretism
Definition
In religion or philosophy, the union of different ideas or principles.
Term
orant
Definition
A person, usually a pries or priestess, who acts as a conduit for divine information. Also: the information itself or the place at which this information is communicated.
Term
lunette
Definition
A semicircular wall area, framed by an arch over a door or window. Can be either plain or decorated with reliefs.
Term
diptych
Definition
A form created when two images (usually paintings on panel or reliefs) are hinged together.
Term
codex style
Definition
A style of vase painting derived from the fluid and elegant script of manuscripts.
Term
vellum
Definition
A type of paper made from animal skins. Vellum is a thick, expensive support.
Term
rotulus (rotuli)
Definition
A term usually applied to medieval manuscripts that are rolled or in a tubular form
Term
illumination
Definition
A painting on paper or parchment used as illustration and/or decoration for manuscripts or albums. Usually done in rich colors, often supplemented by gold and other precious materials. The illustrators are referred to as illuminators. Also" the technique of decorating manuscripts with such paintings.
Term
manuscript
Definition
A handwritten book or collection of handwritten documents
Term
vignette
Definition
A small motif or scene that has no established border and that fades on the edges into the background. Also: the foliated decoration around a capital letter in an illuminated manuscript.
Term
animal style
Definition
A type of artistic design popular in Europe and western Asia during the ancient and medieval periods, characterized by linear, animal-like forms arranged in intricate patterns. The style is often used on metalwork or other precious materials.
Term
ribbon interlace
Definition
A linear decoration made up of interwoven bands, often found in Celtic and northern European art of the medieval period.
Term
animal interlace
Definition
Decoartion made up of interwoven animal-like forms, often found in Celtic and northern European art of the medieval period.
Term
cloisonnè
Definition
A technique in enameled decoration of metal involving metal wire (filigree) that is affixed to the surface in a design. The resulting areas (cloisons) are filled with decorative enamel.
Term
horseshoe arch
Definition
An arch with a rounded horseshoe shape; the standard arch form in western Islamic architecture.
Term
narthex
Definition
The rectangular vestibule at the main (usually western) entrance of a church. In Early Christian architecture, i can also be an entrance porch with columns on the outside of a church.
Term
Westwork
Definition
The monumental west-facing entrance section of a Carolingian, Ottonian, or Romanesque church. The exterior consists of multiple stories between two towers; the interior includes an entrance vestibule, a chapel, and a series of galleries overlooking the nave.
Term
matryium
Definition
A sacred place in Catholic churches where the relics of martyrs are buried, often marked by shrines for worship.
Term
mausoleum
Definition
A monumental building used as a tomb. Named after he tomb of Mausosls erected at Halikarnassos around 350 BC
Term
clerestory
Definition
The topmost zone of a wall with windows (especially of a church or temple), when it extends above any abutting aisles or secondary roofs. Provides direct light into the central interior space.
Term
blind arcade
Definition
A series of arches, carried by columns or piers attached to the background wall; a purely decorative element.
Term
Carolingian minuscule
Definition
The clear and legible script developed in Carolingian times, using spaces between words and large initials at the beginning of sections of text
Term
reliquary
Definition
A container, often made of precious materials, used as a repository for sacred relics.
Term
pilgrimage
Definition
A journey made from church to church to visit reliquaries.
Term
groin vault
Definition
A vault created by the intersection of two barrel vaults of equal size.
Term
buttress
Definition
A type of architectural support. Usually consists of a masonry pillar with a wide base built against an exterior wall to brace the wall and strengthen vaults. Acts by transferring the weight of the building from a higher point to the ground.
Term
ambulatory
Definition
The passage or aisle that leads around the apse of a Christian church. Developed for use in pilgrimage churches, an ambulatory usually allows general passage from the nave around the east end of a church without giving access to the restricted areas of the choir and alter.
Term
Sanctuary
Definition
Greek: a sacred or holy enclosure used for worship consisting of one or more temples and an altar.
churches: the space around the altar, usually at the east end (also called the chancel or presbytery)
Term
gallery
Definition
In church architecture, the story found above the side aisles of a church, usually open to and overlooking the nave. In a large church, such as a cathedral, the gallery may also be used as a corridor.
Term
cruciform
Definition
A term describing anything that is cross-shaped, as in the cruciform plan of a church.
Term
compound pier
Definition
Typically found in a Romanesque or Gothic church, a compound pier is a pier or large column with multiple shafts, pilasters, or colonnettes attached to it on one or all sides.
Term
compound pier
Definition
Typically found in a Romanesque or Gothic church, a compound pier is a pier or large column with multiple shafts, pilasters, or colonnettes attached to it on one or all sides.
Term
choir
Definition
The section of a church, usually between the crossing and the apse, where the clergy presides and singers perform.
Term
lantern tower
Definition
An open octagon resting on squinches, above crossing.
Term
tympanum
Definition
The roughly semicircular area of stone or other material enclosed by an arch that springs from a lintel. Usually found in medieval architecture above a doorway or portal, and often highly decorated.
Also: in Classical architecture, the area enclosed by a pediment.
Term
archivolt
Definition
One of several continuous decorative bands or moldings on the face of an arch, across the voussoirs.
Term
trumeau
Definition
A column, pier, or post found at the center of a large portal or doorway, supporting the lintel.
Term
scriptorium
Definition
A room in a monastery for writing or copying manuscripts.
Term
lectionary
Definition
An ecclesiastical book. A lectionary is part of the fittings of a church and contains readings from Christian Scripture. It is the book from which the officiant reads to the congregation during holy services.
Term
column statues
Definition
A carved image, usually of religious person but also sf allegorical or mythological themes, that is attached to a column or carved from it.
Term
flying buttress
Definition
An arch built on the exterior of a building that transfers the thrust of the roof vaults at important stress points through the wall to a detached buttress pier.
Term
triforium
Definition
An arcaded element of the interior elevation of a Gothic church, usually found directly below the clerestory and consisting of a series of openings from a passageway or gallery, or can be a purely decorative device built into the wall.
Term
lancet
Definition
A tall narrow window crowned by a sharply pointed arch, typically found in Gothic architecture.
Term
oculus
Definition
In architecture, a circular opening. Oculi are usually found either as windows or at the apex of a dome. When at the op of a dome, it is either open to the sky or covered by a decorative exterior lantern.
Term
quatrefoil
Definition
A four-lobed decorative pattern common in Gothic art and architecture.
Term
predella
Definition
The lower zone, or base, of an altarpiece, decorated with painting or sculpture related to the main iconographic theme of the altarpiece.
Term
triptych
Definition
A painting, usually an altarpiece, made up of three panels. The panels often hinged together so the side segments (wings) fold over the central area.
Term
crenelations
Definition
A pattern of open notches built into the top parapets and battlements of many fortified building for the purposes of defense.
Term
altarpiece
Definition
A painted or carved panel or winged structure placed at the back of or behind an altar. Contains religious imagery, often specific to the place of worship for which it was made.
Term
wing
Definition
The side panels of triptych (usually found in pairs), which was hinged to fold over the central panel. Wings often held the depiction of the donors or of subsidiary scenes relating to the central image.
Term
picture plane
Definition
The theoretical spatial plane corresponding with the actual surface of a painting (usually vertical).
Term
oil painting
Definition
Any painting executed with the pigments floating in a medium of oil. Oil paint has particular properties that allow for greater ease of working (among others, a slow drying time, which allows for corrections, and a great range of relative opaqueness of paint layers, which permits a high degree of detail and luminescence). It was adopted on a wide scale in Europe after about 1450.
Term
glazing
Definition
In ceramics, a method of treating earthen-wares with an outermost layer of vitreous liquid (glaze) that, upon firing, renders a waterproof and decorative surface. In painting, a technique particularly used with oil mediums in which a transparent layer of paint (glaze) is laid over another, usually lighter, painted or glazed area.
Term
mathematical, linear, or Renaissance perspective
Definition
A method of creating the illusion of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface by delineating a horizon line and multiple orthogonal line. These recede to meet at other more points on the horizon (vanishing points), to give the impression of recession. This impression, however, is achieved by visual instinct, not by the use of an overall system or program (usually involving scientific principles or mathematics) for depicting the appearance of spatial depth.
Term
orthogonal
Definition
Any line running back into the represented space of a picture perpendicular to the imagined picture plane. In linear perspective, all orthogonals converge at a single vanishing point in the picture and are the basis for a grid that maps out the internal space of the image. An orthogonal plan is any plan for a building or city that is based exclusively on right angles, such as the grid plan of many modern cities.
Term
vanishing point
Definition
In a perspective system, the point on the horizon line at which orthogonals meet. A complex system can have multiple vanishing points.
Term
foreshortening
Definition
The illusion created on a flat printed or drawn surface in which figures and objects appear to recede or project sharply into space. Often accomplished according to the rules of perspective.
Term
polyptych
Definition
An altarpiece constructed from multiple panels, sometimes with hinges to allow for movable wings.
Term
genre painting
Definition
A term used to loosely categorize paintings depicting scenes of everyday life, including (among others) domestic interiors, merry companies, inn scenes, and street scenes.
Term
Verism
Definition
Realistic protrayal of a figure
Term
apotheosis
Definition
Elevation to divine status
Term
Pax Romana
Definition
200 year period of peace in Rome