These Keywords are a guide to some key terms and ideas in art history and visual culture, designed for use by students and teachers across a range of subjects and areas of interest.

This glossary of art history terms started life as part of the book Thinking About Art, A thematic Guide to Art History by Penny Huntsman.

Links in orange allow you to navigate to other areas within this glossary. Links in bold will take you to external sites to find out more about the person or idea referenced within the glossary entry.

You can start searching for specific words by typing Ctrl + F (Windows) or Command + F (Mac). This should open a search box at the top of the screen.


abstract A term associated with early twentieth-century art which communicates meaning through lines, shapes, colours, forms, textures, rather than imitating material objects in the real world.

abstracted Taken from something we can recognise but not represented in a realistic manner.

Abstract Expressionism American painting movement of the 1940s and 1950s associated with abstraction and self-expression.

abutment In architecture, a solid block, usually made from masonry placed to counteract the lateral thrust of a vault or arch.

academicism (ac-a-dem-i-cism) Relating to traditionalism and a formal rule-bound appreciation, especially in the arts.

acrylic paint A synthetic, quick-drying and versatile medium, capable of being applied thickly or thinly, but perhaps best suited to areas of flat, unmodulated colour.

additive process Adding one thing to another, such as adding clay to a model.

aedicule (ee-di-kyool, or ed-i-kyool) A small structure containing a statue framed by columns supporting an entablature and a pediment. Used more frequently to describe a framed opening.

alloy A metal made by combining two or more metallic elements. Bronze is an alloy of tin combined with copper. The combination provides greater strength.

Analytical Cubism The phase of Cubism dating from c.1909 to c.1912, characterised by a dissolution of form. It involved an analysis of a subject by its fragmentation and reassembly, the inter-penetration of planes in a shallow space and a virtually monochromatic colour palette consisting of ochres/browns/grey.

anthropocentrism A belief that human beings are the central or most significant species on the planet.

Antiquity Referring to the classical past, before the Middle Ages. See Classical Antiquity.

applied arts Arts such as ceramics, furniture construction, decorative objects (such as jewellery) and so on, that are not considered ‘fine arts’. In this sense, applied arts are
associated with crafts and design. Applied arts is also referred to, more pejoratively, as the ‘minor arts’.

applied plaster Applying wet plaster, layer by layer, to an armature when making a sculpture.

armature A frame used to support the modelled sculpture. It is usually made from wire or more substantial metal manipulated into the sculptor’s chosen form.

art market The art market is subdivided into two broad categories: the primary and the secondary. The primary market refers to when an artwork comes to market for sale for the
first time at a gallery or exhibition; if the purchaser (collector or dealer) then decides to sell the work it enters the secondary market (often at auction).

Arts and Crafts Movement Initially, a British movement of the nineteenth century which advocated skilled craftsmanship and the ‘honest’ use of traditional materials and techniques.

assemblage A form of sculpture comprised of objects being assembled (put together) to create a work of art. The objects are often found objects.

atmospheric perspective or aerial perspective A term that describes the changes in tone and colour that occur when objects recede towards the horizon line. Colours tend to fade and appear bluish at their furthest point from the viewer. Atmospheric/aerial perspective refers to the effect of an object being viewed in the distance through atmosphere.

atrium In architecture, a sky-lit central court or cavity, often rising through several floors.

automation A workerless system of production consisting of machine or computer controlled manufacture. A concept relating to the displacement of human skill and involvement in the production process.

avant-garde Art and artists regarded to be at the forefront of artistic development because their work challenges established conventions and norms.

azurite A mineral that produces a blue pigment. It performs best with a water-based paint, such as tempera, rather than with oil.


balustrade A series of posts supporting a handrail on a staircase.

Baroque Derived from the Spanish barrueco or the Portuguese barroco meaning ‘deformed pearl’, the term describes mainly Catholic art and architecture in Europe of the seventeenth
century. It is characterised by dynamism and theatricality. Baroque naturalism may be related to the illusionary realistic art achieved by Caravaggio and his followers.

bas-relief or basso-rilievo A low-relief sculpture in which the figures never project more than half their depth from the background.

bel composto A synthesis of architecture, sculpture and painting.

binder Any material that binds (holds together) other materials (e.g. linseed oil in oil paint).

biomorphic Used to describe abstract forms which derive their form from organic shapes, rather than geometric ones.

blaxploitation A term comprised of the words ‘black’ and ‘exploitation’ to refer to a film genre that emerged in the United States in the 1970s. Blaxploitation films such as Shaft, 1971, tended
to feature funk and soul music as well as a primarily Black cast in stereotypical roles.

buon fresco Meaning ‘true fresco’, is painting in which paint is applied directly onto the surface of wet plaster.

Byzantine mosaics Wall (and floor) art, mainly pictorial, made from tiny pieces of brightly coloured or sparkling glass or stone (tesserae). This art form reached its peak in Western art
during the time of the Byzantine Empire (fourth century to 1453), which developed from the Eastern Roman Empire, whose capital was the city of Byzantium (now Istanbul).


canon Authoritative rule or criterion; accepted standard.

canonical Included in a group of officially recognised and accepted works.

cantilevered In architecture, a term to describe horizontal forms projecting from a wall or central core capable of carrying loads without support along its projection.

capitals The head or crowning feature of a column. See Orders for illustration of the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian capitals.

Caravaggisti A term to describe artists who followed in the style of Italian Baroque artist Caravaggio.

caryatid (kar-ee-at-id) Carved standing female figures used as a load-bearing column to support an entablature.

celestial Heavenly, or of the sky.

centring In building, wooden framework used in construction of arches and vaults which is removed once the mortar is dry.

chasing The tooling of a metal surface by denting or hammering to create pattern, texture or a smoothing effect following the lost-wax process.

chiaroscuro (kee-ahr-uh-skyoor-oh) From the Italian meaning ‘light-dark’. The treatment of light and shade to achieve a three-dimensional representation, or modelling. The term is
generally applied to a dramatic use of extreme light and dark in a painting.

Classical Antiquity Also known as the Classical period, comprising the interconnected civilisations of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome from the sixth century bce to the fall of the Roman Empire in the fourth century ce.

Classical Orders See Orders

collaged From the French coller to ‘gum’ or ‘glue’; a technique in which pasted paper or other materials are stuck down as part of or to create a whole pictorial composition.

collectors People who collect things of interest, in this context, art. A collector’s item is an object associated with monetary value and/or beauty.

colonial Relating to a colony or colonies, and/or inhabitants of a colony – for example, British colonisation (control) of a place foreign to itself.

colonnade A row or series of columns at regular intervals carrying an entablature.

columns Free-standing, usually supporting, upright architectural members. In Classical architecture each column consists of a shaft, capital and (except in Doric) a base.

commodification Turning everything into a commodity – to be bought and sold.

complementary colours Pairs of colours which, when placed next to each other, create a strong contrast. The optical strengthening of such combinations was explored by the
chemist, Michel Eugène Chevreul. He wrote The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colours, and Their Applications to the Arts, 1839.

confraternities Civic societies comprising lay people who dedicated themselves to a particular saint and usually devoted themselves to charitable causes. Due to their collective
nature and wealth from subscriptions, they were often able to commission important artists to work for them. For example, Gentile Bellini’s Procession in the Piazza San Marco, 1496, was commissioned for the confraternity of the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista in Venice.

Constructivism A post-revolutionary (after 1917) Russian art movement characterised by abstract angular forms and the use of ‘nonart’ materials (metal, glass, wire, wood, etc.). Some constructivists questioned the role and purpose of art in the new socialist state and applied constructivist forms to architecture and design; others developed Constructivism as an abstract art movement that subsequently spread to Western Europe and the United States.

consumerism A term relating to a high rate of buying (consuming) goods and/or services.

continuous narrative Multiple scenes from a narrative, all contained within a single frame.

contract A written or spoken agreement between two parties intended to be a binding commitment enforceable by law. Contracts between artists and patrons often dictated the
content, materials and timescale of the work to be produced.

contrapposto (kohn-truh-pos-toh) An Italian term, meaning ‘set against’ and used to describe one part of the body twisting away from another, usually identified by the turn of the
shoulders and the hips in opposite directions.

contre-jour French photographic term used to describe photographs taken into the light. The effect is often a rim of light around the objects of the camera’s lens. In painting, the term is
used for an object seen against the light.

corbels In architecture, a block of stone, wood or metal jutting from a wall to carry a weight, such as an oriel window.

Corinthian One of the five Classical Orders of architecture, characterised by a slender fluted column with a flared capital decorated with florid acanthus leaves.

cornice From the Italian, meaning ‘ledge’, a horizontal and decorative moulded projection of a building that forms the uppermost part of an entablature. See also raking cornices.

Counter-Reformation A period of revival for the Roman Catholic Church, prompted by the rise of Protestantism. It started with the Council of Trent (1545–1563) and ended in the mid-seventeenth century.

crenellation A parapet (low wall) with indentations or raised elements, also known as a battlement.

crisis of masculinity A sociological term used to describe the feelings of some men at the loss of a traditional masculine role.

critic Someone who writes and publishes their opinions on art and artists. They can be very influential, raising or lowering an artist’s status.

cross-hatching Crossing lines of hatching to denote shading and tonal modelling.

cruciform Cross-shaped.

Cubism An early twentieth-century movement in art (c.1907–c.1914), invented by Georges Braque (1882–1963) and Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), which abandoned single point perspective in favour of interlocking or faceted planes. Cubism is understood to have developed in three distinct phases: Proto-Cubism, Analytical Cubism, Synthetic Cubism.

curtain wall A non-load-bearing wall of a building. Its non-structural function allows it to be made from lightweight materials such as glass and it is frequently used in skyscrapers where the structure is an internal steel or ferroconcrete (reinforced concrete) frame.


daguerrotype The first widespread photographic process introduced in 1839. A chemical reaction on a highly polished silver surface formed an image. The process was invented by Louis-Jacque-Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851).

dealer An art dealer is a person or company who buys and sells works of art. Some have become well known for their relationships with certain artists, such as Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler with Pablo Picasso and Jay Jopling with Damien Hirst. Some dealers have been able to influence buying trends in the art market.

Deconstructivist A late twentieth-century approach to architecture (also known as deconstruction/deconstructivism, following its literary origins) that uses dislocated and fragmentary effects, creating a sense of disharmony and instability. It may be viewed as a reaction to the geometric regularity and harmony of Modern Movement buildings.

delineating Describing something precisely (e.g. drawing using line to create a crisp, hard-edged finish).

De Stijl (duh-stahyl) A Dutch artistic movement which literally translates as ‘The Style’. It proposed a pure geometric and abstract style.

donor portraits Donors are the patrons of religious works of art in Renaissance paintings, and a portrait of them would typically appear somewhere in the scene.

Doric One of the five Classical Orders of architecture, distinguished by heavy fluted column and plain capital. drum An upright and circular or polygonal–shaped base which supports a dome.

ducal Relating to a duke.


Early Renaissance The period c.1400–1490 in Italian art, principally used in relation to art and architecture in Florence. See also Renaissance.

engaged column A column that is attached to a wall, having between half and three-quarters of its shaft exposed. Its curvature distinguishes it from a pilaster.

entablature In Classical architecture, the continuous horizontal section supported by columns which comprises: architrave (main beam), frieze (horizontal decoration) and cornice.

essentialism A focus on the fundamental truth and basic elements of a person or thing.

ethnicity Used to describe a person’s cultural heritage and/or racial identity. Culture includes a shared language, food, style of dress and so on. To have an ethnic identity involves having
a sense of pride and union with others of the same culture.

ethnocentric Judging other cultures by criteria specific to one’s own, usually implying inferiority.

Expressionism When used with a capital ‘E’ it relates specifically to two early twentieth century German movements: Die Brücke (The Bridge) and Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider). Both groups employed a non-naturalistic use of colour and presented the world from a subjective and emotional viewpoint. When the term is used with a small ‘e’ it refers more generally to art which expresses emotion or to the works of forerunners to Expressionism such as Edvard Munch and Vincent van Gogh. See also Neo-Expressionism.

ex-voto An object, such as a picture, presented as a votive offering, often at a shrine.


façade In architecture, the front of a building. faceted Small planes meeting at sharp angles; in Analytical Cubism they suggest a simultaneous viewpoint.

Fauves Early twentieth-century European avant-garde movement characterised by bold, disharmonious colour palettes and dark outlines for expressive effect. Henri Matisse (1869–1954) was their leading figure. The ‘Fauve’ label was applied derogatorily by critic Louis Vauxcelles at the Salon d’Automne, 1905, where the Fauves exhibited.

feminist A person who advocates the rights of women on the grounds of equality of the sexes.

fenestration Arrangement of windows on a building.

ferroconcrete (or reinforced concrete) Concrete with steel rods set inside; this reinforcing gives a high-tensile strength that concrete alone does not have.

fibreglass Glass in a fibrous form. Plastic reinforced by glass fibre is a strong and lightweight material.

film noir Literally ‘black film’, it relates to movies of the 1940s and 1950s, often featuring a private detective in a fictitious crime story.

flâneur A man who strolls around and observes his surroundings, from the French noun meaning ‘stroller’.

flying buttress In architecture, an arched structure generally on the exterior of a building that carries the outward thrust of a wall to the ground. In this way, it acts like a buttress by
supporting the wall but is only fixed to it at its upper point.

Fordism The manufacturing system initiated by Henry Ford to produce standardised goods efficiently and at low cost. It initially related to the manufacture of Ford’s low-cost car, but the
term is now used to refer to mass-produced goods generally.

foreshortening An aspect of linear perspective where the depiction of an object on a two-dimensional surface creates the illusion of its projection or extension in space.

formal analysis A consideration of an artwork in terms of the following elements: composition, line, colour, shape, scale.

formalism An artistic and critical approach which stresses form (line, colour and shape) over content. In early twentieth-century Britain, leading Formalist critics were Clive Bell and
Roger Fry, and in the United States the critic Clement Greenberg.

found object A natural or human-made object used in an artwork.

fresco Water-based painting applied onto wet lime or gypsum plaster.

frieze A broad horizontal band of sculpted or painted decoration. In architecture, it is the central horizontal section of an entablature.


gables In architecture, the triangular shape at the end of a pitched roof.

gallerist Someone who owns an art gallery or who exhibits artworks in galleries in order to attract potential buyers.

gargoyle Grotesque-style carvings of human or animal form. Used often as water spouts from gutters as symbols to spew evil away from buildings.

gender Relates to being either ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’. Gender is socially and culturally constructed rather than biologically determined.

genre French term meaning ‘kind’, ‘type’ or ‘category’. In painting a genre might be ‘still life’, ‘landscape’, ‘portrait’, ‘history painting’ and, rather confusingly, ‘genre’ (see next entry).

genre-genre A painting depicting an ‘everyday’ scene.

German Expressionism See Expressionism.

gesso Italian meaning ‘gypsum’. A smooth white surface (ground) on which to paint, achieved by applying a mixture of ground gypsum (a natural mineral used to make plaster), chalk and some
kind of glue.

giornate Italian for ‘a day’s work’; sections of new plaster that a painter can complete in a day.

glaze A thin and transparent layer of paint applied over the top of an opaque layer.

gold leaf Real gold which has been beaten into a very thin layer, like foil, before it is applied decoratively.

Golden Section A proportional ratio, believed to be ideal or perfect, that relates to the division of a unit into two parts such that the ratio of the shorter (B) to the longer (A) equals the ratio of the longer (A) to the whole (C). The ratio is approximately 1:1.618 (often expressed as Φ) and originated in the sixth century BCE (at the time of Pythagoras). It is believed that we are inherently drawn to the aesthetic harmony of objects/building made in accordance with the Golden Section.


Gothic A style of art and architecture which prevailed from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries.

Gothic Revival A nineteenth-century style, principally architectural, that copied Gothic forms from the twelfth to sixteenth centuries, such as pointed arches, ribbed vaulting and
stained-glass windows.

graffito Drawing on the surface of walls; plural ‘graffiti’.

guild Civic association of artists or craftsmen that originated in the medieval period. They were often associated with a patron saint.


hatching A technique which uses closely spaced parallel lines to achieve tonal modelling and suggest depth. See cross-hatching.

haute bourgeoisie The upper middle classes.

Hellenistic A period ranging from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE to the emergence of the Roman Empire following the defeat of Cleopatra by Octavian in 31 BCE. Hellenistic art is more decorative and opulent than that of preceding periods.

herringbone brickwork Describes bricks laid at an angle to one another.

hierarchical scale A hierarchy of size or proportion is a technique used by artists to manipulate scale to show the relative importance of subjects.

High Baroque A style dating from c.1625 to c.1660 when the drama of the style was at its height. See also Baroque.

High Renaissance A name given to developments in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century when the great Renaissance masters Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo worked. See also Renaissance.

high-tech High-technology architecture characteristically imitates the style of industry and its materials: steel, glass, plastic.

high-tensile Strength and resistance to breaking when drawn out or stretched.

hoop-tie In building, stone and wooden chains locked together with iron to act as a belt around the base of a dome.

horse-shoe arches Characteristic of Islamic architecture, they are also called Moorish or keyhole arches. They resemble horse-shoe shapes and can be rounded or pointed in form.

humanism A cultural movement associated with the Renaissance, relating to the belief in human progress by human efforts. Inspired by Ancient Greek philosophy and thought.

hybridity/hybridisation The term is used broadly today, although it is often used to refer to the blending of cultures.

hyperrealism A detailed, accurate, life-like manner. With a capital ‘H’, a movement in painting in the late 1960s and 1970s that is an accurate and detailed imitation of the real world much like a photograph. Also referred to as Superrealism or Photorealism.


icon Literally ‘image’, but in the Eastern Christian tradition an image of a holy being or object that might be used as a focus for  veneration.

iconography The study of the symbolic meaning of images in a work of art, such as particular objects, animals, plants, physical gestures, etc.

idealisation The representation of things in an ideal or perfect way.

ideology A sociological concept that refers to a set of ideas (that of the dominant class) that are presented as the only way of seeing things and therefore accepted despite their being based
on a partial truth.

impasto Thickly applied paint (usually oil) that stands up above the surface to which it has been applied.

Impressionists Members of the French movement Impressionism. Fifty different  artists exhibited in the eight Impressionist exhibitions, but of these Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, Renoir, Morisot, Cassatt and Degas are now considered to be the core group. Their work is characterised by bright palettes, painterly (loose) brushwork, and scenes of contemporary Parisian life and landscapes.

indulgences In Catholic theology, an indulgence is the remission of punishment on earth or in purgatory (although not in Heaven) for sins that have already been forgiven through Confession. Luther criticised the Catholic practice of allowing priests to sell indulgences (to raise money for the church, or even for themselves) and the assumption that priests possessed the power to grant the laity eternal earthly happiness in the transaction.

infra-red reflectogram Data captured from reflectology. Infra-red reflectology (IRR) is a technique used to look through paint layers, using wavelengths of infra-red radiation to reveal underdrawings.

installation A work of art created for a specific location, which then becomes an integral aspect of the work experienced by the viewer. This may be indoor (in a gallery or a non-art setting)
or outdoor. Sometimes the viewer must physically enter the installation.

International Gothic A style prevalent in the late fourteenth to early fifteenth centuries, characteristically decorative and showing attention to detail.

International Style A term derived from the 1932 Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, exhibition of that name. It is an alternative style label to Modern Movement.

Ionic One of the five Classical Orders of architecture, distinguished by a more slender column than in the Doric Order and capital with volutes.

istoria A term used by Leon Battista Alberti in his treatise About Painting (1435) to describe a generally complex and uplifting figure composition that conveys a biblical, mythological or historical narrative.


Japonisme A French term relating to the nineteenth-century European interest in Japanese art. In Western art this was manifest in the use of dark outline, stark pattern and areas of flat, unmodelled paint derived from Japanese woodblock prints.


kitsch A German term for ‘trash’. It has come to be associated with vulgarity, poor taste and popular culture. Its style is epitomised in garish tourist souvenirs.


laity Ordinary people, as distinct from the clergy.

lancet In architecture, a tall narrow window terminated in a pointed arch. A Gothic feature.

lapis lazuli A semi-precious blue mineral used to make a bright blue pigment which, in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, was more expensive than gold leaf.

liberal arts Considered to be more intellectual and therefore superior to the mechanical arts (practical craftsmanship). Art was considered more liberal than mechanical during the

lime-proof pigments Colours (pigments) that can withstand the chemical effects of the lime mortar into which they are incorporated during the fresco process. For this reason fresco has a limited colour palette.

linear perspective The method of representing solid, three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface using the optical impression that parallel lines converge as they recede to a vanishing point on a horizon or eyelevel line. This geometry allows the artist to plot the relative size of objects.

loggia (loh-jee-uh) In architecture, a colonnade or arcade that is roofed and open to the air, usually on one side only.

lost-wax process (in French cire perdue) A bronze casting method in which the wax model is melted and ‘lost’, leaving a cavity into which molten metal is poured.

low-tensile Weakness and susceptibility to breaking when drawn out or stretched.


maestà An Italian word for ‘majesty’, which refers to paintings of the Madonna enthroned as the Queen of Heaven.

male gaze Used in relation to psychoanalytic theory and relating to the gendered gaze in terms of male desire or destruction. Feminist theorist Laura Mulvey examined the exclusively
male gaze in terms of patriarchy. See patriarchal.

Marxist A follower of the beliefs of German social theorist Karl Marx (1818–1883). Marxism explores the concept of man’s alienation: the lack of control an individual has over the
product of their labour.

masonry Stonework in architecture and building.

material The type of material used by artists (such as oil, acrylic, bronze) and architects (such as brick and stone). Also referred to as medium.

mechanical arts Practical skills such as weaving and blacksmithing. The mechanical arts complemented the liberal arts, which were considered to be more intellectual.

mechanisation The use of machines for production, communication, transport, etc. The term is generally applied to developments in Western society during and after the Industrial
Revolution (from the mid-eighteenth century) and suggests a decline in hand production, direct human interaction, travel using natural means, etc.

medieval period A period in history from the fifth century to the early fifteenth century, also referred to as the Middle Ages. The medieval period followed the fall of the Western Roman
Empire in the fifth century and preceded what is called the Early Modern Era, beginning with the Renaissance.

medium The type of material used by artists (such as oil, acrylic, bronze) and architects (such as brick and stone).

memento mori Objects designed to remind people of their own mortality, sometimes included in a type of still life known as a vanitas.

meritocracy A system in which people are selected or promoted according to merit.

mezzanine The partial storey or floor between two main storeys in a building.

Middle Ages A term first used in the Renaissance for the period in European history dating from about the fifth to the fifteenth century. So-called because Renaissance scholars regarded it as a middle period between two ‘great’ periods – the Classical of ancient Greece and Rome, and their own, which they called ‘modern’.

minarets In architecture, tall, slender and circular towers which are usually attached to an Islamic mosque, from which the faithful can be called to prayer.

miniature A term associated with minute portraits, small enough to be worn or carried.

mise-en-scène (meez-on-sen) The arrangement of a scene in a film, photograph or advertisement. Elements include lighting, make-up, props, facial expression, etc.

modelling In two-dimensional work, the way artists achieve volume and a sense of three dimensional realism by shading from light to dark. It is often used inter-changeably with the
more technical term chiaroscuro, although this implies a dramatic use of extreme light and dark. It can also refer to the making of a sculpture in clay, plaster or wax by adding and
forming material to create form.

Modernism A very broad term relating to modern thought and a break with the past, and, more specifically, Modernism with a capital ‘M’ relates to the ideas of twentieth-century American art critic Clement Greenberg.

modernity The condition of being modern, up to date, but used by the French writer and art critic Charles Baudelaire to describe a particular aspect of the modern – the fleeting experience of life in the urban city of Paris in the nineteenth century.

Modern Movement In architecture, the term relates to angular, undecorated buildings in modern materials with an emphasis on functionalism. Also known as the International Style.

Mogul The decorative art and architecture of the Mogul dynasty (Muslim rulers of India) from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. The Taj Mahal is the most well-known example of
this kind of Indian Islamic architecture.

monochromatic A term referring to objects or images with a narrow range of colours. The term is often applied when black and white is used.

mythological Concerning a body of myths from Greek and Roman mythology.

mythology Stories relating to superhuman beings (gods and goddesses) from Antiquity.


nationality The status of belonging to a particular nation. Nations often believe themselves to possess their own characteristic qualities, and people belonging to a nation often demonstrate national sentiment.

naturalism In art, depicting the natural appearance of things as closely as possible.

Neo-classical Describes a style in European art of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that drew inspiration from the art, architecture and ideas of ancient Greece and, especially, Rome; sometimes expressed as Neo-classicism. It was considered to offer a ‘pure’ style.

Neo-Expressionism A revival of Expressionism in the second half of the twentieth century, one exponent of which was George Baselitz.

Neo-Plasticism A term coined by Dutch artist Piet Mondrian (1872–1944) to describe a severe abstract aesthetic typically using straight lines and primary colours with white, black and grey.

Neo-Platonism A new (neo) Platonism derived from the philosophy of Plato, which suggests that perfection can only exist in the immaterial or transcendental realm. Neoplatonic beauty suggests that which is beyond the imperfections of the material realm.

noble savage The term expresses the concept of a romanticised native or non-Western ‘other’; deemed to be uncorrupted by civilisation and born gentle and free.


odalisque (o-da-leesk) A Turkish female slave or concubine. The subject was popular in nineteenth-century art. The pose of the model is often indicative of sexual availability. Typically, one arm or both arms are raised above the shoulder to enable a fuller view of the upper body.

oeuvre (oeu-vre) The collective works of an artist; their entire body of work.

opacity Describes being unable to see through, lacking transparency.

Orders In Classical architecture, the features of a trabeated structure, such as a temple. There are five main orders in Classical architecture: Doric, Tuscan, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite. Each order has a column, capital and (apart from Doric) a base, and above it a particular style of entablature, consisting of architrave (main beam), frieze (horizontal decoration) and cornice (moulded projection).

oriel In architecture, a projecting window usually built out from an upper storey and supported by corbels.

Orientalism A term most commonly used to describe the depiction of the East by Western artists. The term, which became synonymous with the exotic in Western usage, was critically examined by scholar Edward Said in his seminal text Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient, 1978, which examined the West’s fascination with the East as ‘other’.

other A term that denotes difference or divergence from norms established by ruling or controlling authorities in relation to ethnicity, culture, gender or other groupings.


painterly Brushstrokes that are clearly visible.

patina The colouring that may occur on metal sculptures naturally as a result of age and environmental conditions or which may be encouraged artificially using chemicals.
patriarchal Denoting a society dominated by men.

patrons Patrons commission, support or collect works of art and architecture (they are the clients). In commissioning a work they may exert influence over its creation and specify
what they want, what materials should be used and the timescale for its completion.

pediment A Classical architectural feature. A low-pitched gable on top of a portico (entrance), door, window or the end of a building following the roof slope. Most pediments are straight-sided (triangular) although they can be curved.

piano nobile An Italian term used to describe the ‘noble floor’, or main living floor, usually raised above ground level and frequently the first floor. Larger windows often indicate its status as a principal reception floor.

picture plane The plane of a picture from which the illusory three-dimensional space appears to recede.

pietà (pi-e-tà) Italian term for ‘pity’, and a subject of paintings and/or sculptures of the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of Jesus on her lap.

pigment A substance, usually dry, used as colouring when mixed with a liquid binder.

pilasters A shallow pier or rectangular column projecting from the wall and, in Classical architecture, conforming one of the Orders.

piloti A thin column that acts as a support.

plane A flat surface.

plein air A French term meaning ‘open air’ used to describe painting outdoors.

polychromatic Many-coloured.

polychromer An artist who painted wooden sculpture in a variety of colours.

polyptych (po-lyp-tych) A work, usually an altarpiece, on more than three panels.

Pop Art An art movement of the early 1960s that challenged traditional subjects and forms of art, often employing imagery from mass culture such as comics, consumer goods and
advertising, and using collage and found objects in combination with painted imagery.

Post-Impressionism A term used to describe the work of a generation of painters who came after the Impressionists. It is an imprecise and umbrella term for a wide variety of styles.

Post-Impressionists Artists painting in a variety of ways, expressively or symbolically, after Impressionism.

postmodern A twentieth-century concept which represents a move away from Modernism and its accompanying ideologies. Encompasses a range of artistic and architectural styles, often in a playful manner. The term first came into use in the 1960s with reference to architecture, but is now commonly used in relation to all of the arts.

Prairie Style American architectural style characterised by long, horizontal buildings with low-pitched roofs and over-hanging eaves. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, Chicago,
1908–1909, is typical of the style.

precisionist Generally suggesting accuracy and exactness. With a capital ‘P’, it is an art style in America from c.1910s–1940s characterised by clean-cut, immaculate representations of
features of the urban landscape. Originally called the ‘Immaculate School’, they were later dubbed Cubo-Realists, then (in 1960) Precisionists.

pre-Columbian Relates to the history of the indigenous Americas cultures before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492 (who is traditionally credited with their discovery). It
therefore tends to denote the period prior to European influence. Pre-Columbian art is made by indigenous peoples (e.g. the Mayan, Aztecs and Incas).

prefabricated Parts/units (often in building) manufactured off site and brought together for assembly.

Pre-Raphaelites The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was formed in 1848 by a group of English painters who took their inspiration from art which preceded that of the Italian Renaissance painter Raphael. They admired such art for its simplicity and apparent moral content. The principal founding members of the group were John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt.

primary colours In pigments, red, yellow and blue are the colours from which all other colours are derived.

primitivism Influence of primitive art, in the early twentieth century principally from Africa and the Pacific Islands.

Prix de Rome Literally ‘Rome Prize’, this was an art scholarship introduced by the French Royal Academy in 1663. The winner took up a student scholarship to study Classical and
Renaissance art at the Académie de France à Rome at the King’s expense for a period of three to five years.

Proto-Cubism Early, pre-Cubist phase that preceded mature Cubism. Mature Cubism comprised Analytical Cubism and Synthetic Cubism.


quattrocento (kwah-troh-chen-toh). A term (relating to the one thousand four hundreds) used to refer to the fifteenth-century period of Italian art during the Renaissance.


raking cornices Cornices which follow the slopes of a gable or pediment.

raking light A light applied to the picture plane at an acute angle.

readymade Everyday manufactured objects deemed to be art by virtue of the artist’s presentation of them as such. A concept of art Marcel Duchamp is credited with perfecting in
the early twentieth century.

Regency The period 1811–1820 when King George III was deemed unfit to rule and his son, the future King George IV (1820–1830), ruled as Prince Regent. It is used more loosely
to describe late Neo-classical style furniture and architecture in England.

reinforced concrete See ferroconcrete.

Renaissance A French term meaning ‘rebirth’ used to describe arts in Italy from the early fourteenth to the mid-sixteenth centuries.

retablos Literally means ‘behind the altar’. In Mexico, retablos are small oil paintings on tin, zinc, copper or wood principally for use in the home and usually venerate Catholic saints. They are deeply rooted in Spanish and Mexican culture and distinctively folk-art in style.

rib In architecture, a moulding which projects from the surface of a ceiling or wall. Often with a rounded profile and found especially in Gothic church architecture where they define
and decorate the vaults of naves and transepts. They are also found on the outside of domes.

ribbon window In architecture, a continuous horizontal strip of windows.

Rococo A term to describe the elegant style of interior decoration, probably derived from the French rocaille (stone) and coquille (shell). It is used to identify painting, sculpture and other
visual arts in the early eighteenth century.

rustication Cutting stone in a way that sinks the joints to create a channel. Façades can often look powerful and solid as a result.


Salon Refers to annual or biannual art exhibitions held in Paris under the auspices of the French Royal Academy from 1725 and, in the nineteenth century, sponsored by the French government.

screen printing Also known as silkscreen printing and serigraphy. A method of printmaking which places a cut, painted or photographically applied stencil design on a screen of polyester or other fine mesh. In areas not blocked out by the stencil, printing ink is forced through the mesh (screen) onto the printing surface. A separate stencil is required for each colour printing. The technique is said to have originated in China during the Song Dynasty (c.960–1279) where silk was used. Nowadays, cheaper, modern and more durable materials (such as nylon filament fibre) are used.

secco fresco Painting on a plaster wall where the plaster is dry. In order for the paint to adhere to the wall, egg yolk is added to the pigment as a binder.

secondary art market The re-sale art market. A sale achieved after the original (primary) sale.

secondary colours Colours made by mixing two primary colours to form green, orange and purple in pigments.

secular Not religious.

self-portrait A representation of the artist drawn, painted, printed, sculpted or made in some way using other media by the artist.

semi-monocoque Monocoque (monuh-kohk,-kok) is from the French word mono (single) coque (shell) that relates to a construction type where the shell carries the stress/load. A structure which has its load supported partly (semi) by its single shell is semi-monocoque.

semiotics The study of signs and symbols in various fields, especially language (e.g. a rose is a sign of love).

sexism Assumption that one sex is inferior, or discrimination based on this assumption or a presupposition based on a fixed notion of gender (e.g. images that degrade women or turn them into sex objects for the gratification of men are said to be sexist). Discrimination can be overt or covert.

silicone resin An adhesive synthetic organic polymer containing silicone and oxygen.

size Usually animal-skin glue used as a binder or for priming canvas.

socialist Someone who follows the philosophy or doctrine of socialism, which is an economic and political system based on collective ownership and the collective rights of man. Socialists value liberty and equality.

soft sculpture A type of sculpture made using soft materials such as fabric, wool, foam and other natural or man-made non-rigid materials.

stereotype/stereotypical A pejorative term to describe the way people or things are viewed in certain fixed and often unjustified and exaggerated ways.

stigmata The nail wounds pertaining to Christ’s Crucifixion.

stucco A plaster-coated decoration or wall coating.

stylus A small and pointed metal tool used for incising and marking.

subject Refers to the literal and visible topic or theme of a work. This can be almost anything, but common examples include the nude, war and animals.

sub-text An underlying theme and/or meaning

subtractive A sculpture technique in which material is reduced and taken away (as in carving).

Superrealism A movement in painting in the late 1960s and 1970s that is an accurate and detailed imitation of the real world much like a photograph. Also referred to as hyperrealism
or Photorealism.

Suprematism A term coined by the artist Kasimir Malevich about 1915 to describe his abstract art of coloured geometric forms.

Surrealism A twentieth-century avant-garde movement in art and literature that aimed to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind. Founded by the French poet
André Breton with the First Surrealist Manifesto, 1924, the diversity of the group’s artistic style tended to be united by a Freudian interest in liberating the mind from rationality and control. Despite his eventual expulsion from the movement, its most famous exponent was the Spanish artist Salvador Dalí.

symbiotic A close association or relationship between two interdependent objects, people, ideas, etc.

symbolic exclusion A sociological term used by Parveen Akhtar (2005) to describe the way Muslims in the UK have been made to feel excluded from wider society on account of their ethnicity and faith. The term ‘symbolic annihilation’ was used by feminist theorist Gaye Tuchman (1978) in a similar way to describe the under-representation of individuals based on gender and ethnicity in the media. Both terms can be understood as relating to the marginalisation of the ‘other’ and social inequality.

Symbolism A late nineteenth-century art movement embracing a variety of styles but with the common aim of rejecting literal representations in favour of images that evoke, suggest or symbolise subjects and meanings. A good deal of Symbolist art is anti-materialistic, anti-rational, mystical and, sometimes, associated with decadence, eroticism and the perverse.

synaesthete Someone who experiences synaesthesia, in which the stimulation of one sense leads to the involuntary stimulation of another, such as an auditory sound stimulating the visual experience of a corresponding colour.

Synthetic Cubism A style dating from c.1912–c.1914 in which the image was built up from sections of the subject as a series of planes. Collage, or simulated collage in paint, was frequently used.


techniques and processes Describes the various ways artists and architects handle the materials they use.

tempera A permanent and fast-drying medium also known as egg tempera because pigment is mixed with egg yolk, which acts as a binder.

tenebristic (tenebrous, tenebrism) From the Italian word tenebroso, meaning ‘obscure’, it describes a work which is predominantly dark. Typified by the seventeenth-century work of
painter Caravaggio. tension piles In architecture and building, large upright posts hammered deep into the ground to support a superstructure.

Thatcherite A follower of the political policies advocated by Margaret Thatcher, who was UK Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990. It includes an emphasis on the free market and individual

thinner A liquid used to dilute paint, making it flow more easily. In oil-based paint, this is generally turpentine, which can also be used as a cleaning agent.

tondo An Italian word for ‘round’, used to describe a circular painting or relief sculpture especially common in the fifteenth century.

tone Relating to the quality of brightness; a shade of colour.

tooled Tooling can refer to removing blemishes to smooth stone and metal, or decorating a surface by punching or marking to create indentations.

trabeated Having horizontal beams rather than arches; a post and lintel system of construction. transept A section of a building, usually a Christian church, that lies across the main
body of the building.

transverberation The moment of spiritual rapture when experiencing God’s presence in one’s own body. This is symbolised in art and literature by the piercing of the heart with a spear or arrow.

tripartite An arrangement/composition in art and architecture which is divided into three parts/sections.

truth to medium Responding to and taking advantage of the natural and inherent properties of the medium.

tympanum (tym-pa-nem) Triangular or segmental face of the pediment (the space within the pediment), or the arched area (frequently decorated with sculpture) above an entrance (usually to a Christian church).


ultramarine From Latin meaning ‘beyond the sea’. It is a deep-blue coloured pigment derived from ground lapis lazuli. During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, lapis was mined in Afghanistan and imported to Europe where, because it was an extremely expensive pigment and also because it symbolised the blue of Heaven, it was used to depict the robes of the Virgin Mary. A synthetic version of ultramarine was first made in 1826.

Usonian A term coined by Frank Lloyd Wright to describe architecture and town planning of the United States, as distinct from America (which included Canada and Mexico). Wright built about 60 Usonian houses from 1936 until his death in 1959. Designed for middle-income families, they were intended to epitomise a singularly US architecture independent of European influence. They were also to suggest an egalitarian culture and an idealistic vision of a new civilisation.


vanitas Latin for ‘vanity’; taken from Ecclesiastes 1:2 ‘Vanity of vanities’ and commonly an allegorical still life painting in which objects become symbolic of the transience of human life.

verdigris A green coloured pigment obtained from the residue formed after applying acid to copper.

verisimilitude Extreme realism and meticulous attention to detail.

vernacular Indigenous and local, derived from the Latin vernaculus.

volutes From the Latin for ‘scroll’. In architecture, a spiral scroll feature found at the top, the capital of an Ionic Order (also found as part of the capital on a Corinthian Order and Composite Order).


wet-on-wet A painting technique in which wet paint is applied onto layers of wet paint or wet ground. For the technique to be effective, the paint must be applied quickly before the first layers have dried out. Known in French as au premier coup and in Italian as alla prima.


YBA An abbreviation of Young British Artists used to identify a number of artists chiefly supported by the patron and collector Charles Saatchi. They include Damien Hirst, Rachel Whiteread and Tracey Emin.


Zeitgeist (zight-guise-t) German word meaning the spirit of the age (an outlook specific to a particular period in history).

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