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Art Terms Glossary




Glossary of Art Terms

Brief explanation of terminology used in the theory and practice of the fine arts.

A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - J-L - M - N - O - PQ - R - S - T - U-Z


Ill-defined and very widely used term which in its most general sense describes any art in which form and colour are stressed at the expense, or in the absence of, a representational image.
The process of making an abstract image; the work created.
Literally, belonging to an Academy of art. Also: derogatory term meaning conventional, stereotyped, derivative.
originally the garden near Athens where Plato taught, and hence the name given to his school of philosophy. During the Renaissance: the term was adopted by philosophical and literary groups, and later by schools established for the training of artists. The first Academy was founded in Florence by Giorgio Vasari in 1562 and followed by the Accademia di San Luca some 10 years later. These academies were characterized by their emphasis on the study of Classical art and the human form. In the 19th century the academies were associated with conservatism and rejected by many artists who sought alternative creative outlets.
Acrylic Paint
A fast-drying, synthetic, water soluble paint that can be used on most surfaces. Made from colour pigments and a synthetic plastic binder, acrylic paint looks like oil and can be used in a variety of painting techniques.
Aegean art
art from various cultures around the eastern Mediterranean from c.2800 BCE to 1400 BCE, including Cycladic, Minoan (from Crete), and Mycenean.
Aerial perspective
A way of suggesting the far distance in a landscape by using paler colours (sometimes tinged with blue), less pronounced tones, and vaguer forms in those areas that are farthest from the viewer. By contrast objects in the foreground are painted in sharply outlined, brilliant, and warm colours, and background objects are shown in muted, cooler colours.
Philosophy applied to art, which attempts to formulate criteria for the understanding of the aesthetic (rather than utilitarian) qualities of art.
Instrument for spraying paint, propelled by compressed air. Invented in 1893, it has been much used by commercial artists, whether for fine lines, large areas, or subtle gradations of colour and tone.
In Antiquity, a carbonate of lime used in Egyptian sculpture, especially for small portable pieces. Also: modern alabaster, a lime sulfate which can be highly polished but is easily scratched, popular in 14th-century Europe for tomb effigies.
Alla prima
Technique, commonly used in painting since the 19th century, whereby an artist completes a painting in one session without having provided layers of underpainting.
An allegory is the description of a subject in the guise of another subject. An allegorical painting might include figures emblematic of different emotional states of mind, for example envy or love, or personifying other abstract concepts, for example sight, glory, or beauty. These are called allegorical figures. The interpretation of an allegory therefore depends first on the identification of such figures, but even then the meaning can remain elusive.
All-over space
Jackson Pollock was the first artist to use all-over space in his "drip" paintings. It refers to paintings where there is no focal point but where everything on the canvas has the same degree of importance.
In Christian church architecture, the picture or decorated screen behind the altar. It may consist of a single painting or an elaborate group of hinged panels.
Member of the 19th-century school of French bronze sculptors who specialized in small animal figures. Also: animal-painter.
Animal style
Type of nomad art originating with the Celts in the 7th century BCE in southern Russia and the Caucasus; it was characterized by the predominance of animal motifs (zoomorphs), frequently distorted, ornamenting all kinds of portable objects including metalwork, textiles, wood and bone.
Greek and Roman civilization until the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD. Greek and Roman sculpture was admired during the Renaissance as an ideal art, and study of The Antique formed the basis of the curriculum in most art academics.
Applied art
The designing and decorating of functional objects or materials to give them aesthetic appeal, e.g. printing type, ceramics, glass, furniture, metal work and textiles. The term is frequently used to differentiate this type of work from the fine arts (painting, drawing, sculpture) whose value is primarily aesthetic.
Textile decoration in which cut fabric shapes are stitched to a fabric ground as a design.
Aquatint etching
Process whereby acid is allowed to bite into a copper plate prepared with resin which is then inked and printed.
Motif based on interlaced plant forms, found in the fine and decorative arts, in architecture, and especially typical of Islamic design.
Archaic Greek art
Greek art of the mid 12th century BCE to c.480 BCE; one of four convenient divisions of Greek art, the others being Geometric, Classical and Hellenistic.
Science or art of building. Also: the structure or style of what is built.
Framework or skeleton on which a sculptor molds his clay.
Armory Show
International exhibition of modern art held in New York in 1913 in the 69th Regiment Armory building. Exhibits included the work of the more Avant-Garde US artists and of the School of Paris. The exhibition was enormously popular and marked the birth of a real interest in modern art in 20th-century America.
Art Brut
A term used to describe drawings, paintings and any other form of art done by untrained or amatuer artists. Could be applied to drawings done by children, people who are mentally ill or anyone who is does not describe themselve as an "artist" or who are not painting commercially.
Artifact (or artefact)
Any object of human workmanship. Also: (archeology) an object of prehistoric or aboriginal art, as distinguished from a similar but naturally occurring object.
Arts and Crafts Movement
Mid-19th-century artistic movement in England, inspired by John Ruskin and William Morris; it attempted to raise the standards of design and craftsmanship in the applied arts, and to reassert the craftsman's individuality in the face of increasing mechanization.
Modern art form consisting of objects collected and assembled together; the components are pre-formed, not made by the artist, and not intended originally as "art material".
Drawing and painting method associated with Surrealism in which the artist does not consciously create but doodles, allowing the subconscious mind and virtually uncontrolled movement of the hand to produce an image.
Artists whose work is ahead of that of most of their contemporaries; unconventional, experimental, innovative. Also descriptive of the work produced by such artists.

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Mythological scene popular in paintings of the Renaissance and 17th century depicting the revels of Bacchus, Roman god of wine.
Scene in painting which provides setting for main figures or design; sometimes used synonymously with ground.
Group of painters who specialized in bambocciate (Fr. bambochades): low-life and peasant scenes, popular in the Netherlands and Italy in the 17th century. The name derives from Pieter van Laer (1592-1642), a Dutch painter nicknamed "Il Bamboccio" ("Big Baby").
Banketjea or banquet piece
Banketjea is a Dutch word which means "little banquet". A Banketjea is the name given to a still life painting which features a range of luxury foods and expensive serving pieces.
Baroque classicism
classical style - exemplified in the paintings of Nicolas Poussin and the architecture of Carlo Fontana which flourished during the Baroque period.
Form of sculpting characterized by only a slight projection from the surrounding surface.
An artform which employs wax resistant designs on dyed textile fabrics.
Unglazed white porcelain, popular in Europe from the mid 17th century.
Black-figure technique
Style of decoration of ancient Greek ceramics, chiefly of 6th-century BCE Corinth. Designs were painted on the object in black metal oxide paint and then incised through to the reddish clay.
Blocking in
Before starting a painting, an artist may 'block-in' the composition of the painting using rough outlines or geometric shapes to show him how everything fits on the canvas. Virtually all portrait painters use this 'blocking in' method.
Body colour
Watercolour made opaque by mixing with white. Also: term used in painting to describe solid, definitive areas of colour which are then completed or modified with scumbles and glazes.
Alloy of copper and tin, used for cast sculpture. Also: sculpture made from this alloy. Hence bronzist, a maker of bronze sculpture, plaques, etc.
Implement for applying paint, usually of hog or sable hair set in a wooden handle.
Brush stroke
The individual mark made by each application of paint with a BRUSH, usually retaining the mark of the separate brush hairs.
General term for manner or style in which paint is applied, and often considered by art historians as an identifying characteristic of a particular artist's work.
Buon fresco, see: fresco.
Metal tool used for engraving.
Portrait sculpture showing the sitter's head and shoulders only.
Art art of the eastern Roman Empire centred on Constantinople, formerly Byzantium, from the 4th century AD. At various times it embraced both Classical Greek realism and stylized, hieratic, Oriental art.

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Cabinet picture
small or medium-sized painting executed at an easel, and designed for collectors, especially popular from the 17th century; see Easel Picture.
The art of fine hand-writing.
Camera obscura (camera ottica)
device that uses a lens to project a reduced image of an object on to a flat surface so that the outline may be traced. Popular with artists from the Renaissance to the 18th century.
The fabric support used for an oil or acrylic painting, usually made of linen or cotton, stretched tightly and tacked onto a wooden frame. Linen is regarded as superior to heavy cotton in a canvas.
Tendency to follow the style of Caravaggio, exhibited by the Caravaggisti (17th-century painters working in Rome), who made particularly dramatic use of chiaroscuro.
Painting or drawing, usually a portrait, that exaggerates features for humorous or satirical effect.
Carolingian art
European art of the period covered by the reign of Charlemagne (CE 768-814) and his successors until CE 900; usually regarded as the foundation of medieval art.
Carpet page
In manuscript illumination, a page totally filled with decorative design.
Full-sized drawing for transferring design to painting, mural, or tapestry. Also: comic drawing; caricature.
The duplication of a model in metal or plaster by means of a mold; the model thus formed is a cast.
Chinese porcelain or stoneware with a distinctive gray-green glaze.
The general term used since the 19th century for pottery and porcelain, i.e. fired clay.
The common name for calcium carbonate, which is found as a natural deposit all over the world, and is composed of the remains of tiny crustaceans. Traditionally used in painting and drawing.
Champleve enamel
Decorated metal, usually copper, especially popular in Europe from the 11th century to the 14th; a hollowed-out pattern in the metal was filled with coloured glass pastes and the whole object fired, thus fusing glass to metal. (Compare Cloisonne enamel.)
Form of carbon used for drawing.
The contrasting use of light and shadow. artists who are famed for the use of chiaroscuro include Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio and Rembrandt. Leonardo used chiaroscuro to enhance the three-dimensionality of his figures, Caravaggio used it for drama, and Rembrandt for both reasons.
Term for a European style of art applied to furniture, ceramics, interior design, based on imaginary pseudo-Chinese motifs.
Chip carving
Early primitive carved decoration of Northern European oak furniture, executed with a chisel and gouge, until about the 16th century.
A monogram (the Sacred Monogram) formed by the first two letters - X and P (chi and rho) - of the Greek word for Christ. In religious art it may refer to the Resurrection of Christ.
the 16th century.
Cire perdue (Fr."lost wax")
casting process used in bronze sculpture.
painting or drawing of city scenery.
The quality of classic or classical art. The term is applied in particular to the type of art that was the antithesis of Romanticism during the 18th and 19th centuries, when it was held to represent the virtues of restraint and harmony, in contrast to dramatic individual expression.
Cloisonne enamel
Decorated metal in which a design of metal strips is applied and the compartments (cloisons) formed are filled with coloured glass pastes. (Compare Champleve enamel)
Collage ("pasting")
Technique originating with Cubism in which paper, photographs, and other everyday materials were pasted on to a support, and sometimes also painted.
Colonial style
American painting, art, and architecture of the 17th century to the 19th.
Term applied to various periods of painting, e.g. 16th-century Venetian, in which colour was emphasized, rather than drawing. "colourist" is an artist who specializes in, or is famed for, his/her use of colour.
Colour wheel
A diagrammatic chart showing the placement of colors in relationship to each other. For more details, see: Colour Theory in Painting.
Composition, of a painting
Composition describes the complete work of art, and in particular the way that all its elements unite in an overall effect. Compositional elements in a painting might include: size of canvas, subject matter, focal points of the picture (if any), colour scheme, tonal warmth and contrasts, draughtsmanship, representation and meaning, among others.
Computer graphics
Visual images created by computer software programs.
Art in which the concepts and ideas are more important than tangible, concrete works of art.
Term coined in 1929 when Theo van Doesburg became editor of the magazine art Concret; it is sometimes used as a synonym for abstract art, though the emphasis is not just on geometric or abstract form, but on structure and organization in both design and execution.
Conte crayon
proprietary manufactured chalk.
Contemporary art
A rather loose term, used by museums to describe post-war art, and by critics to refer to art since 1970.
Content, of a painting
This traditionally refers to the message contained and communicated by the work of art, embracing its emotional, intellectual, symbolic, and narrative content.
Contrapposto ("opposite", "anti-thesis", "placed against")
word used in sculpture, referring to the posing of human form so that head and shoulders are twisted in a different direction from hips and legs.
Design or patternwork (eg. Etruscan/Celtic interlace) based on pattern of curved lines; sinuous.
Cycladic art
type of Aegean art from the Cyclades - a group of Greek islands - c.2800 BCE to 1100 BCE.

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Dark Ages
period of the Middle Ages from c.5th century CE to 10th century, considered a phase in which philosophy and the arts were ignored or actively hindered.
Decalcomania (decalcomanie)
American term for lithography.
Decorative arts
Collective name for art forms like ceramics, tapestries, enamelling, stained glass, metalwork, paper art, textiles, and others, which are deemed to be ornamental or decorative, rather than intellectual or spiritual.
Victorian craft which involves the cutting out of motifs from paper, gluing them to a surface and layering with varnish to give a completely smooth finish.
Degenerate art ("Entartete Kunst")
Nazi propaganda term used from c.1937 for works of modern art disapproved of by the party.
Pair of painted or sculptured panels hinged or joined together; especially popular for devotional pictures in the Middle Ages; see altarpiece.
Direct carving
Method of stone sculpture where form is carved immediately out of the block, and not transferred from a model.
Literally, "drawing" or "design", but which during the Renaissance acquired a broader meaning of overall concept.
Refers to the monochrome use of pencil, charcoal, pen, ink, or similar mediums on paper, card or other support, producing linework or a linear quality rather than mass. When used of a painting, it refers more specifically to the artist's method of representing form by these means, rather than by the use of colour and paint.
Copper engraving technique.

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pottery made from red or white clay, fired in a kiln at less than 1200 degrees Cent.
An upright support (typically a tripod) employed for holding an artist's canvas while it is being painted.
Easel painting (or picture)
small or medium-sized painting executed at an easel. These were usually intended for collectors and conoisseurs, although the term may also be used generally for any portable painting, as opposed to mural painting.
Ecce homo (Latin, "Behold the man")
the pictorial representation of Christ's presentation to the people by Pontius Pilate before the Crucifixion.
to mould, stamp, or carve a surface to produce a design in relief.
vitreous substance (usually lead/potash glass) fused to metal at high temperature (about 800 degrees Cent) and often used for decorative objects; see Cloisonne enamel.
Encaustic technique
ancient technique of painting with wax and pigments fused by heat.
the technique of incising lines on wood, metal etc. Also: the impression made from the engraved block.
Environmental art (earthworks, land art)
A form of contemporary art dating from the 1960s and 70s created in the landscape, either by using natural forms, or by enhancing natural forms with man-made materials. Famous pioneer environmental artists include Robert Smithson, and Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
process in which the design is drawn on a metal plate through a wax ground; the design is cut into the plate with acid, and printed. Also: a print produced by this method.
Ethnographic art
art inspired by a particular racial culture, especially of the primitive type.
inert pigment used to bulk a paint or to lower the tinctorial strength of another pigment.

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type of tin-glazed earthenware, often used for architectural purposes. Also: archeological term for ancient Egyptian wares of glazed powdered quartz.
Figurative art
synonym for representational art.
Figure drawing (and figure painting)
drawing or painting in which the human figure predominates, usually full length.
small model or sculpture of the human figure, like prehistoric Venus Figurines, such as Venus of Willendorf.
Fine art
art whose value is considered to be aesthetic rather than functional, i.e. architecture, sculpture, painting and drawing, and the graphic arts. Compare applied art and decorative art.
Flower painting
still-life painting of flowers, associated chiefly with Oriental art and the Dutch painters of the 17th century.
Folk art
Naive art of peasant societies, including their fine and decorative art.
Refers to the area of the picture space closest to the viewer, immediately behind the picture plane. The next distant area is the middleground; the most distant is the background.
the use of the laws of perspective in art to make an individual form appear three dimensional.
Describes the elements in a work of art which are independent of the emotional or interpretative significance of the work: for example, the medium, scale, shape, colour, dimensions, line, mass, texture, and their mutual relationships.
the tendency to adhere to conventional forms at the expense of the subject matter.
Found Object
an object that is found, not made by the artist, and is then defined and displayed as a work of art - also known as an "objet trouve" - and associated with Surrealism and Dada.
Mural painting on fresh plaster; sometimes called buon fresco ("true fresco") to distinguish it from painting "a secco", on dried plaster.
Fresco Secco
misleading term synonymous with painting "a secco".
Frottage (Fr. "rubbing") the technique of placing paper over textured objects or surfaces and rubbing with a wax crayon or graphite, to produce an image. Invented by Max Ernst.
the artistic theory that form should be determined bv function, especially in architecture and the decorative arts, and that this will automatically produce objects that are aesthetically pleasing.

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Painting type. The five traditional "painting genres" are history painting, portraiture, "genre-painting" (of everyday scenes), landscape and still life.
Geometric Style
Greek style of decoration, flourishing from c.900 to c.725 BCE, based on linear and angular shapes.
Georgian art
refers to the styles prevalent through the reigns of the four King Georges in Britain from 1714 to 1830. Usually refers to architecture, furniture, silver and the like, rather than painting.
generally used for any mixture of an inert white pigment with glue, used as a ground for painting; strictly, a mixture in which the inert pigment is calcium sulfate. Gesso grosso is coarse gesso made from sifted plaster of Paris, used for the preliminary ground layer in medieval Italian panel paintings. Gesso sottile is fine crystalline gypsum, made by slaking plaster of Paris in excess water. Gesso can also be built up or molded into relief designs, or carved.
Gestural painting
a term that originally came into use to describe the painting of the abstract Expressionist artists Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Hans Hofmann and others. What they had in common was the application of paint in free sweeping gestures with the brush.
the area of work in mural or mosaic that could be finished in one day. In fresco painting, it refers to the area of intonaco applied each day. In true fresco, the joins of the giornate are usually visible.
Glass Painting
technique of decorating glass, not very clearly distinguished from glass enameling, although it may be more transparent and smoother. Early glass painting was not fired, and therefore not permanent.
transparent layer of paint applied over another; light passes through and is reflected back, modifying or intensifying the underlayer. Also: vitreous layer made from silica, applied to pottery as decoration or to make it water-tight.
opaque watercolour paint. Also: a work executed in gouache medium.
drawings or words scribbled in random fashion on a wall. Graffiti art became a contemporary artform in New York during the 1980s.
Graphic design
Describes the applied art of formulating/arranging image/text to communicate a message. It can be applied in any media, such as print, digital media, animation, packaging, and signs.
Grattage ("scraping")
technique used bv 20th-century artists, in which an upper layer of paint is partially scraped away to reveal the contrasting under-layer.
Greek vases
range of pots of different sizes, used for different purposes, most of which were often decorated if not painted. The two main styles were black-figure and red-figure techniques.
technique of monochrome painting in shades of gray, used as underpainting or to imitate the effect of relief.
layer of preparation on a support to receive paint. Also: in etching, the acid-resistant material spread over the metal plate before the design is etched. Also: in pottery, the clay forming the body of a vessel on which a design is executed.

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The first identifiable continental culture and art-style of the Celts (c.600-450 BCE). Followed by La Tene Celtic culture.
spontaneous artistic event or display; a feature of American and Western European Performance art since the 1960s.
drawing technique that uses closely spaced parallel lines to indicate toned areas. When crossed by other lines in the opposite direction it is known as cross-hatching.
Haut-relief (Alto-rilievo, high relief)
Form of sculptural relief characterized by a prominent projection from the surrounding surface.
Greek culture of the 11th century BCE to 323 BCE.
Greek culture after Alexander the Great (from 323 BCE) to the late 1st century BCE.
style in which certain fixed types, often sacred, are repeated, e.g. in Egyptian or Byzantine art. It may also be applied to any art that uses severe, rigid figures rather than naturalistic ones.
pictorial form of writing, as used by the Egyptians.
High art
art that strives to attain the highest aesthetic and moral qualities in both content and expression.
architecture or sculpture decorated with narrative subjects. A historiated initial is an initial in an illuminated mansuscript containing a narrative scene.
History Painting
painting whose subject is some significant historical event, preferably Classical, mythological, actual or literary. From the 16th century to the 19th, history painting was more highly esteemed than other forms of painting, especially by the academies.

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Icon (Greek, "image", "portrait")
in Byzantine, Greek and Russian Orthodox church art, the representation of Christ or the Virgin, or saints, in mosaic or painting; tending to be stereotyped or hieratic; hence iconic.
recognizable emblematic motifs and symbols in works of art.
Ideal art
art of various periods that is based on the artist's conception rather than visual perception, e.g. the art of the High Renaissance, or of 17th-century classicism.
The decoration of manuscripts, which may have started from the simple addition of minium to the script, the general part being written in black. From this grew quite extraordinary elaboration, fantastic interwoven strap patterns, decorative motifes, zoomorphic imagery, plant forms. miniature portraits of religious figures. It was one of the most important arts of the Middle Ages. Wherever there were monasteries the art seems to have been practised. The monastic scribe worked about six hours a day. After he had finished the work was proof-read. Then the sheets went to a rubricator who put in titles and headlines, then to the illuminator. The last worked miracles of miniature presentation with the materials at his command. The oldest known illumination is an Egyptian papyrus, the 'Book of the Dead'. The Greeks and Romans produced some work, but very little survives. The Byzantine manuscripts contain some perfect examples. Fourteenth-century Persian editions of the Koran, exquisite delicate designs. Among the famed European manuscripts are the 'Book of Hours' of the Duc de Berry produced by the Limbourg brothers (1410-13), and 'The Book of Kells', 8th century, now in Trinity College Library, Dublin. The manuscripts were worked on vellum, using not only colours, but also gold-leaf and other metals, tiny fragments of precious and semi-precious stones and raising paste.
Illuminated Manuscript
handwritten book on vellum or parchment, usually medieval, decorated with miniature painting, borders, and decorative capital letters; hence illumination. Exemplars: Book of Kells, Lindisfarne Gospels, Book of Durrow.
the use of optical and perspectival principles to create the illusion of painted objects being three dimensional; hence illusionist, illusionistic.
a graphic artist who enhances written text by providing an illustration (pictorial explanation) of the written words.
thick mass of paint or pastel; hence impasted, or impastoed.
India Ink
In fine art, a drawing ink made from a black pigment consisting of lampblack and glue.
Ink painting
Japanese and Chinese painting technique, using ink in the same way as watercolour.
A form of art, often involving mixed media (eg. sculpture and video), which typically fills an entire space, such as a room or gallery. It is commonly site-specific.
decoration produced by cutting into a surface, used in engraving, etching, gem carving.
the decoration of wood with inlay work, especially in 15th-century Italy.
a style of genre-painting perfected by Dutch Realists of the later 17th century; later taken up by Danish artists like Peter Vilhelm Ilsted (1861-33) and Vilhelm Hammershoi (1864-1916).
International Gothic
since the 19th century, used to describe the style of art prevalent from c.1375 to 1425, balanced midway between naturalistic and idealistic values and characterized by delicate and rich colouring.
the smooth layer of lime plaster that receives the paint in fresco painting.
Italianate style
in an Italian manner. Also: in architecture, the adaptation of Italian Renaissance palace styles, especially so in America c.1840-65.
Italian Primitives
artists and their works in Italy prior to 1400.

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extremely hard stone, which may be blue, green, white, or brown; highly prized in Chinese art for carvings and jewellery. It is composed of calcium and magnesium, with sodium or aluminum.
the influence of Japonaiserie - Japanese imports e.g. prints and furniture, brought to Europe in the mid 19th century - on European painting.
Jasper Ware
type of stoneware pottery introduced by Josiah Wedgewood in 1774. Originally pure white but sometimes stained with cobalt oxide to produce "Wedgewood blue".


also known as China clay; used in the manufacture of hand-paste porcelain and sometimes in the GROUNDS of paintings. Chemically it is hydrated silicate of aluminium.
Key design
geometrical pattern of repeated horizontal and vertical straight lines, found in ancient Greek and Celtic art.
Kinetic sculpture
designed to move and thus produce optical effects; first made in the 1920s, but most popular from 1960 onward.
mass-produced vulgar craftwork articles of the kind manufactured for souvenirs; the word has now become a pejorative term for whatever is thought to be in flamboyant bad taste.
Archaic Greek statue of standing youth (pl. kouroi).
ancient Greek storage vessel; different shapes were used for water and wine.
Kufic script
angular, square type of Arabic script (the more flowing script is NASHKI); sometimes found in decorative Romanesque and Gothic art.


painting, drawing, or engraving in which the scenery is the principal subject. Also: scenic areas of a painting or drawing.
Lapis Lazuli
deep-blue semiprecious stone, used for jewellery, and from which the pigment ultramarine is extracted.
La Tene Style
style of decorative art that appeared c.5th century BCE in Europe and was fully developed in Celtic art of the pre-Roman period; the name is derived from a site in Switzerland where metal objects and weapons in this style have been found.
Life drawing
drawing from a live human model.
artistic style that emphasizes lines and contours; hence linearity and linearism.
Linear perspective
method of indicating spatial recession in a picture by placing objects in a series of receding planes; parallel lines receding from the onlooker's view-point will appear to meet at a vanishing point.
Line engraving
the art or process of hand-engraving in Intaglio and copper plate, using a Burin. Also: a print taken from such a plate.
Lino cut
print produced by carving a design into a block of linoleum.
printing method in which a design is drawn on stone with a greasy crayon and then inked.
Lost wax, see: Cire Perdue.

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according to the writings of Georgio Vasari (1511-74), the "stylishness" associated with the art of 16th-century Italy, epitomized in the work of Raphael and Michelangelo.
model made on a small scale by a sculptor or a stage-designer as a preliminary three-dimensional "sketch'" for the final work.
type of limestone used since Antiquity for sculpture and building. It occurs in various colours, from pure white to black, often veined.
Marine art
painting or drawing of a sea subject.
originally a test piece of work done by the medieval apprentice in order to qualify as a Master of his Guild. The term is now used more freely to mean a work of oUbtanding importance or quality.
the means or material with which an artist expresses himself. In painting, the medium is the liquid in which pigment is mixed and thinned, e.g. linseed oil.
method of copper engraving, Also: a print produced by this method.
is a term which describes the artistic imitation of nature, rather than its interpretation: in order words, the showing of things as opposed to the telling of things (diegesis).
very small piece of work, such as the illustration in a medieval manuscript. During the Renaissance and the 18th and 19th centuries, the term was more specifically applied to small portraits painted on ivory.
Minimal art
modern art that rejects texture, subject, atmosphere, etc and reduces forms and colours to the simplest; hence minimalism, minimalist.
Mixed Media
the combination of different materials in the same work, sometimes including performance.
Kinetic sculpture probably originated by Alexander Calder in 1932; the sculpture is hung from wires so that it is moved by air currents.
three-dimensional representation of objects.
the theory of modern art that rejects past styles, and promotes contemporary art as the true reflection of the age, hence modernist.
Modern art
Traditionally starts with Impressionism, from about 1874 onwards, until the early post-world war II period. Late Pop-art then ushers in contemporary or post-modern art.
printing process that takes an impression from a metal or glass plate, producing only one print of each design, which must then be redrawn.
connected with, or serving as, a monument. Also: used figuratively of paintings and other art forms to mean imposing or massive.
Mosaic art
designs formed from small pieces of stone, glass, marble, etc.
Mosan art
art of the 12th and 13th centuries in the valley of the River Meuse in France; it produced the first great school of enamel painters using the Champleve technique.
a repeated distinctive feature in a design.
Mughal art
art of the courts of the Muslim rulers in India, 1526-1707.
picture painted on a wall.
Mythological painting
pictures of subjects chosen from Greek and Roman Classical mythology, popular from the 15th century to the 19th.

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the work, style, or art of untaught artists, usually crudely naturalistic.
Narrative Painting
painting that relates a story or incident, most popular during the Victorian period.
the flowing form of Arabic calligrahic script (compare Kufic).
accurate, detailed representation of objects or scenes as they appear, whether attractive or otherwise. The term was first used of the 17th-century Caravaggism; (compare Realism).
Non-objective art
A 20th century term applied to visual art which is not based on existing, observable forms, but rather on abstract or idealized forms, such as geometric, mathematical, imaginary, etc. An early pioneer of non-abstraction is Piet Mondrian.
Non-representational art
Also called nonobjective, this style consisted of works which had no reference to anything outside themselves. In practice, it was mainly geometrically abstract.


Objet trouve, see: Found Object.
Oceanic art
art of the South Pacific.
the total output of an artist. Also: a work of art.
Offset litho
lithographic technique in which ink is transferred from a plate to a rubber roller, and then onto the paper.
Oil painting
A medium where pigments are mixed with drying oils, such as linseed, walnut, or poppyseed, which found great favour due to its brilliance of detail, its rich colour, and its wider tonal range. Popularized during the 15th century in Northern Europe (whose climate did not favour fresco works), foremost pioneers of oil paint techniques included (in Holland) Hubert and Jan Van Eyck, and (in Italy) Leonardo Da Vinci.
There are various types of oil which are used as binders and drying agents (oil plus pigment dries by a process of oxidation by absorbing oxygen from the air) by oil painters. Linseed oil, made from flax seeds, adds gloss and transparency to paints and dries very thoroughly (within 3-5 days), making it ideal for underpainting. Stand oil is a thicker type of linseed oil, with a slower drying time (7-14 days), which is often diluted with (eg) turpentine, and used for glazing to produce a smooth, enamel-like finish with minimal traces of brushmarks. Poppyseed oil, much paler, more transparent and less likely to yellow than linseed, is often employed for white or lighter colours. Poppyseed oil takes longer to dry than linseed oil (5-7 days), so it is perfect for working wet on wet. Walnut oil is a thin, pale yellow-brown oil (dries in 4-5 days) which is commonly used to make oil paint more fluid.
Orders of Architecture
the five Classic orders, each composed of a column, having a base, shaft, capital, and entablature with architrave frieze, and cornice. There are three Greek orders: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. These were adapted by the Romans, who added Tuscan and Composite.
Ottonian art
German art of the period 919 to early 11th century, under the Ottonian emperors; notable for manuscript illumination, bronze casting, mural painting.
Outsider art
Refers to works by those outside of mainstream society. Outsider art broadly includes folk art and ethnic art as well as by prisoners, the mentally ill and others neither trained in art nor making their works to sell them.
The final layer of paint that is applied over the under painting or under layer after it has dried. The idea behind layers of painting is that the under painting is used to define the basic shapes and design so that the overpainting can be used to fill in the details of the piece.

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Bristles may derive from a variety of animals including boar, wolf, squirrel and badger as well as synthetic. Red sable hair is considered the finest. Different shapes are employed for different types of painting tasks: larger, more indistinct areas of painting such as the sky in landscapes were typically done with flat or round-tipped hogs hair brushes, while specific detail was painted with fine pointed sable brushes. In addition, feathers were sometimes employed to smooth out areas of paint to remove visible brushwork. Badger Brushes were used to blend adjacent areas of different tones.
a term coined by the art historian Heinrich Wolfflin to describe one of two contrasting styles in painting: linear, which emphasizes contours; painterly, which emphasizes colour and tone; hence painterliness.
process of applying paint. Also: object produced by applying paint to a flat support, e.g. a wall or canvas.
slab of wood, metal or glass used hy the artist for mixing paint. Also: figuratively: the range of colours used by the artist. See: Colour Mixing Tips. For details of colour palettes used by painters throughout the history of art, see Prehistoric Palette 40,000-10,000 BCE), (Egyptian Palette 3,000-1,000 BCE), (Classical Colour Palette of Ancient Greece/Rome), (Renaissance Colour Palette 1400-1600), (Eighteenth Century Palette), and (Nineteenth Century Colour Palette).
Palette knife
spatula-shaped knife for mixing or applying thick, bodied paint.
Panel painting
refers to the use of wooden panels, as support: a practice which was widespread until the appearance of canvas during the 15th century. In Flanders, Holland, France and England, oak panels were most popular; in Germany and Austria oak, beech, lime, chestnut, and cherrywood was used; while in Italy poplar was also employed. Dry seasoned planks were primed with several coats of "size" - a glue derived from animal skins - and gesso, a combination of powdered calcium sulfate (gypsum) and animal glue. One advantage of panels, was their extremely smooth surface, which made them ideal for painting fine detail.
painting of a view or landscape; especially large-scale painting around a room, or rolled on a cylinder.
Papier Colle ("pasted paper")
collage of paper/card, first used in 1912 by Georges Braque.
Crayon made from pigment mixed with gum and water and pressed into a stick-shaped form, or work executed in this medium. Because pastel tends to be light and chalky in tone, the word is also used to describe pale, light colours.
idealized landscape painting or country scene.
small models made as preliminaries to larger models, when making sculpture.
A term which refers to the "depth" of a picture - that is, the illusion of three-dimensional space on the picture's two-dimensional surface - whereby forms in the background appear smaller than those in the foreground. The "single point" or linear perspective system was pioneered by Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) in Florence in relation to his architecture. Mathematically constructed so that all receding parallel lines seem to converge towards each other, eventually meeting at a single point (the vanishing point), this method of perspective was employed by artists from the early 15th century onwards. Curiously, Dutch and Flemish painters of the early 15th century developed their own independent method of perspective.
metal boss or disc, worn as an ornament or decorating a horse's harness. Commonly seen in Hallstatt and La Tene style Celtic art.
picture combining juxtaposed photographic images.
a hyper-realistic style of painting in which an image is created in such detail that it resembles a photograph.
quaint, charming. From the 18th century onwards "The Picturesque" acquired a more specific meaning, particularly in connection with landscape painting, and architecture; it suggested a deliberate roughness or rusticity of design, and was to some extent transitional between Classicism and Romanticism.
representation of the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of Christ.
the colour element in paint. Pigments can consist of a wide variety of ingredients, including minerals, natural/artificial dyestuffs, and other synthetic compounds. See: Colour Pigments: Types, History.
used in art to describe anything that can be molded or modeled; the opposite of Glyptic.
Plastic arts
three-dimensional forms of art such as sculpture, pottery, and architecture.
Plein air painting
refers to the spontaneous outdoor method of painting from nature - usually landscapes - as perfected by Claude Monet among others.
sketch, especially one made outdoors.
Polymorphic painting
multiform painting, produced by some modern kinetic artists. The appearance of the work changes according to the position of the observer.
painted work (usually an altarpiece) of more than three panels; see also Diptych, Triptych.
hard, refined ceramic material, invented by the Chinese in the 7th century.
drawn or painted image of a person, usually naturalistic and identifiable; hence portraiture, portraitist. See also Bust.
Potter's wheel
Horizontal revolving disk used to shape clay by the ceramicist.
A form of ceramic art, in which wet clay is shaped, dried, glazed and fired in a kiln to create a variety of vessels, and ornaments.
adherent of the French late 17th-century theory of poussinism: the supremacy of line (draftsmanship) over colour.
Prehistoric art
art of the Stone Age, which may be divided into Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic periods.
Primary colours
red, blue, and yellow; the colours that can be mixed to produce other colours, but cannot themselves be produced from mixtures.
Primitive art
Paintings and drawings by people outside the influence of traditional Western styles. Also: works by intuitive painters or sculptors with a "naive" style commonly due to their lack of formal arts training.
any image, pattern, or lettering produced on fabric or paper by a variety of graphic processes. Also: (verb) to make an impression or image by such a process. Usually means letter-printing; printmaking involves producing an image that is aesthetically pleasing, or illustrative.
A term which applies to fine art printing processes, such as etching, engraving, lithography, woodcut, and silkscreen, in which multiple images are replicated from the same metal plate, stone, wood or linoleum block, or silkscreen, with monochrome or colour printing inks.
in painting, sculpture and architecture, this describes the ratio between the respective parts and the whole work, as annunciated (for instance) in the Canon of Proportion, a mathematical formula establishing ideal proportions of the various parts of the human body.
A term meaning the origins of a work of art, specifically its history of ownership since its creation. Museum curators and fine art research experts at auctioneers like Christie's and Sotheby's study a work's provenance to establish its authenticity.

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Quattrocento (It.) 15th century.


Japanese pottery used for the tea ceremony; molded, not thrown on a wheel.
name given by Marcel Duchamp-exponent of Dada principles - to prefabricated objects exhibited as works of art.
style of painting dating from the 19th century, typified by Courbet, that makes a deliberate choice of everyday subject matter (Realisme). Also: the opposite of abstract or distorted (similar to naturalism). Also: in Greek Classical sculpture. work that is not stylized or idealized.
Red-figure technique
the technique of the finest ancient Greek vase-painting in which figures were drawn in black and the back-ground blocked in in black so that the figure stood out in the red.
Relief sculpture
carving, etc in which forms project and depth is hollowed out; the type of relief is determined by the degree to which the design stands out; thus alto rilievo (high relief) and bas relief (low relief), in which the projection is slight.
Renaissance ("rebirth")
the period of Italian art from c.1400 to 1520 characterized by increased emphasis on realism and the rediscovery of Classical art.
Technique of metalwork art, where metal is decorated by hammering from the side not seen, so that the design stands out in relief.
A method of creating or enhancing perspective in a painting, for instance by placing a large figure/object in the foreground. Such repoussoir figures were common features of Dutch figure painting of the seventeenth-century. Dutch Realist landscape artists often exploited the dramatic effect of repoussoir to enliven their pictures of the flat and featureless Dutch countryside.
Representational art
art that attempts to show objects as they really appear, or at least in some easily recognizable form.

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French annual exhibition (held from 17th century onwards) of painting and sculpture by members of the Academy, traditionally hostile to innovation.
Salon des Independents
exhibition of the Societe des artistes Independents of 1884, including Seurat and Signac. The society had no selection jury.
Salon des Refuses
exbibition of 1863 promoted by Napoleon III to show works rejected by the Paris SALON.
Salon painting
the style acceptable to the Paris Salon; by implication dull and stereotyped.
the Japanese equivalent of Wen-jen hua (or "literary men's painting") in Chinese art; a literary-minded amateur who painted for pleasure.
scroll of paper or silk, popular in Oriental art. A hand scroll is about 30cm (12 in) wide and up to 30m (100 ft) long, and unrolls from right to left to give a continuous picture, viewed section by section. A hanging scroll, as the name implies, is hung like a painting. Both are usually painted in ink or watercolour.
object carved or modeled in wood, stone, etc or cast in metal for an aesthetic, nonfunctional purpose; or the process of producing it; hence sculptor. "Sculptural" is used to describe art (including painting and drawing) that has pronounced three-dimensional qualities.
an opaque or semiopaque layer of paint applied over another so that the first is partially obliterated, producing a slightly broken effect.
painting or drawing of the sea and shipping.
Self-portraits were created as early as the Amarna Period (c.1365 BCE) in Ancient Egypt, although the genre wasn't properly exploited until the time of Albrecht Durer in late 15th century Germany. Since then, other important pioneers of self-portrait painting have included Rembrandt, Vincent Van Gogh and Egon Schiele.
a painting technique developed by Leonardo da Vinci, in which transitions from light to dark are so gradual they are almost imperceptible; sfumato blurs lines and creates a soft-focus effect.
A term meaning scratched; in painting, one colour is laid over another, and scratched with a tool so that the underlying colour is revealed.
A drawing method using a piece of metal, usually silver wire, drawn on a ground prepared with Chinese white, sometimes with pigment added.
Site-specific art
Any work of art (typically murals, or sculpture) created for a specific place, which cannot be separated or exhibited outside its intended environment.
Typically a rapidly executed or casual portrayal of a subject, in pencil, charcoal, pen and ink or other portable medium, often produced as a preliminary work in preparation for something more detailed.
A style of 20th century sculpture consisting of a stationary object, fixed to a base of some description. Contrasts with a mobile, the free-hanging sculptural invention of American sculptor Alexander Calder (1898-1976), stabiles were also created by Calder.
Stencil art
An image created by applying ink or paint through a cut-out surface.
Still life
one of the major genres of Western art, it describes a type of painting featuring inanimate everyday objects. There are four types: (1) flower pieces, (2) breakfast or banquet pieces, (3) animal pieces, (4) Symbolic Still Lifes.
a drawing technique which employs many small dots or flecks to construct the image, or shading.
hard pottery made from clay plus a fusible stone (usually feldspar) and fired at 1200-1400°C so that the stone is vitrified.
Canvas, paper, panel, wall, etc on which a painting or drawing is executed.

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wall hanging of silk or wool with a nonrepeating pattern or narrative design woven in by hand, during manufacture.
a method of painting in which pigments are combined with an emulsion of water and egg yolks or whole eggs (plus sometimes glue or milk). Widely used in Italian art in the 14th and 15th centuries, both for panel painting and fresco, was then superceded by oil paint.
style of 17th-century painting associated with Caravaggio making much use of strong Chiaroscuro.
Terracotta (It ."haked earth")
hard, fired hut unglazed, brownish-red clay used for pottery, sculpture, and building.
circular picture or relief.
14th century.
picture or carving in three parts; a form of polyptych common for altarpieces.
Trompe l'oeil
painting that "deceives the eye"; type of illusionistic painting characterized by its very precise naturalism.


Ukiyoe (or Ukiyo-e)
Japanese, meaning "pictures of the floating world". Genre painting, and later Woodblock prints, whose subjects were actors, domestic scenes, and courtesans.
Vanishing point
point at which the receding parallel lines in a painting appear to meet; see Linear perspective.
Still Life painting, popular from the 17th century, which contains objects as reminders of the impermanence of temporal life and of mortality.
any type of painting medium which is soluble in water. Watercolours are usually applied with brushes, but several other tools may also employed. The most common painting techniques are known as wet-on-dry and wet-on-wet, plus the dry brush techniques dry-on-dry and dry-on-wet. Watercolours can be removed while still wet, by blotting. When watercolour are made thicker, opaque and mixed with white, it is generally referred to as gouache. Thomas Girtin and JMW Turner were two great pioneers of the art form.
print produced from a design on a wooden block. woodcut print made from a Woodblock cut so that the design stands out in relief.
Early form of wood engraving, first seen in China in the 1st century CE. Xylography is the oldest known engraving technique.
the School of Japanese painting from the 10th to the 15th century that preserved the native traditions.
Yellow Book
influential quarterly magazine published from 1894, of which Aubrey Beardsley (1872-98) was art editor.
ancient Babylonian and Assyrian pyramid-shaped construction.
motifs based on animal forms.