pala (Ital. "panel")

Altarpiece or a sculptural or painted altar decoration. Usually pointed or rounded at the top.

palazzo (It. "palace")

Palaces: large urban dwellings, 'palazzo' in Italian carries no regal connotations.

Alberti described the palace as a city in little, and, like cities, Italian Renaissance palaces vary in type according to differences of climate, tradition and social structure. On to these regional stocks were grafted new architectural strains, reflecting theoretical reinterpretations of antiquity and individually influential examples.

The atrium and peristyle house described by Vitruvius and now known from Pompeii did not survive antiquity, and much of the interest of Renaissance designs lies in creative misunderstandings of Vitruvius's text. Medieval palace architecture probably inherited the insula type of ancient apartment house, related to the modest strip dwellings which never disappeared from Italian cities. In Florence a merchant palace developed from fortified beginnings, with vaulted shop openings on the ground floor, and the main apartments above, reached by internal stone staircases opening from an inner court. Renaissance developments regularized without changing the essential type, although large cloister-like courtyards were introduced, while shops came to be thought undignified. At Michelozzo's Medici Palace (1444) a square arcaded courtyard with axial entrance lies behind a façade of graduated rustication, with biforate windows, a classical cornice replacing the traditional wooden overhang. The apartments on the 'piano nobile' formed interconnecting suites of rooms of diminishing size and increasing privacy. The classical orders which Alberti introduced to the façade of the Palazzo Rucellai (c.1453) were not taken up by the conservative Florentines, who continued to build variations on the Medici Palace (Palazzo Pitti; Palazzo Strozzi). In the 16th century rustication was reduced to quoins and voussoirs, and large windows appeared on the ground floor, 'kneeling' on elongated volutes.

At Urbino the Ducal Palace (1465) reflected Alberti's recommendations for the princely palace, and was in turn influential on late 15th century palaces in Rome (e.g. the Cancelleria). A harmonious Florentine courtyard and ample staircase replace the embattled spaces of medieval seigneurial castles, of which vestiges remain only in the towers flanking the balconies of the duke's private apartments, designed as a scholarly retreat. In the absence of a merchant class or a cultured nobility in 15th century Rome, the architectural pace was set by the papal court. Papal incentives to build, and large households, meant less compact plans for cardinals' palaces, often built next to their titular churches. Renaissance forms appear in the unfinished courtyard of the Palazzo Venezia (1460s), with its arcade system derived from the nearby Theatre of Marcellus, and in the delicately ordered stonework of the Cancelleria (1485). In the 16th century vestigial corner towers and shops disappear from cardinals' palaces, and Antonio da Sangallo's Palazzo Farnese (1516) introduces symmetrical planning and Vitrivuan elements, like the colonnaded vestibule, behind a sober Florentine façade, enlivened by Michelangelo's cornice. A smaller palace type supplied the needs of an enlarged papal bureaucracy, more ambitious for display than for domestic accommodation. Bramante's 'House of Raphael' sets the façade style not only for this new type, but also for Renaissance houses all over Europe. Raphael and Peruzzi made ingenious use of difficult sites (Palazzo da Brescia; Palazzo Massimi), and their sophisticated façades flattered the architectural pretensions of patron and pope (e.g. Palazzo Branconio dell'Aquila).

Movement of patrons and architects, especially after the Sack of Rome, meant a diffusion of Roman forms to central and northern Italy, where Sanmicheli's palaces in Verona, and Palladio's in Vicenza, adapted Roman types to suit local conditions. Palladio's 4-columned atrium is a Vitruvian solution to the traditionally wide Veneto entrance hall, and his plan for the Palazzo da Porto-Festa contains explicit references to Vitruvius's House of the Greeks. In Venice, defended by its lagoon and a stable political system, the hereditary aristocracy built palaces open to trade and festivity on the Grand Canal. The traditional Venetian palace has a tripartite structure: long central halls above entrance vestibules used for unloading merchandise are lit on the canal façade by clusters of glazed windows (rare elsewhere), and at the back from small courts with external staircases (as in the Ca' d'Oro). Codussi's palaces introduced biforate windows and a grid of classical orders into the system, while Sansovino's Palazzo Cornaro retains vestiges of the Venetian type (small courtyard; tripartite façade) despite its Bramantesque coupled orders and licentious window surrounds. Other cities, like Genoa, evolved influential types. Through engravings and the illustrated treatises, Italian Renaissance ideas of palace planning, originally evolved in response to specific conditions, came to be applied all over Europe.


Dominant style of English architecture post-1700, based on the work of Andrea Palladio (1508-1580), that was also influential in other European countries.

palmette, palmette style

The word comes from Italian "palm". It is a symmetrical ornamental motif imitating palm trees or palm leaves. Following Oriental patterns, it is an element of ancient architectural decoration frequently used either on its own or as friezes. It became the most popular basic motif of medieval ornaments. The so-called palmette style was a style following Byzantine examples whose contacts are not yet identified. Rich, lace-like decorations were applied on major parts of buildings, e.g. column-caps, cornices and abutments.


Term in painting for a support of wood, metal, or other rigid substance, as distinct from canvas. Until the adoption of canvas in the 15th century nearly all the movable paintings of Europe were executed on wood, and even up to the beginning of the 17th century it is probable that as much painting was done on the one support as on the other. Painters who worked on a small scale often used copper panels (Elsheimer is a leading example), and in the colonial art of South America copper and tin and even lead and zinc were used. On a larger scale, slate has occasionally been used as a support, notably by Rubens for his altarpiece for Sta Maria in Vallicella (the Chiesa Nuova) in Rome; the picture he originally painted was said to reflect the light unpleasantly and slate was used for the replacement to produce a more matt finish. For wood panels the Italian masters of the Renaissance preferred white poplar, while oak was the most common wood used in northern Europe. Many other types were used, however; analysis of the contents of art galleries has yielded a long list, including beech, cedar, chestnut, fir, larch, linden, mahogany, olive, and walnut. In the 20th century cedar, teak, and dark walnut are favourites, and modern painters have also used plywood, fibre-board, and other synthetic materials as supports.

panel painting

Painting on wooden panels. Until the introduction of canvas in the 15th century, wooden panels were the standard support in painting.


Temple built in Rome aloout 25 BC by Emperor Agrippa. Having a circular plan, and spanned by a single dome, it was one of the most distinctive and original buildings of ancient Rome.

papacy (in the Renaissance period)

Papal rule had three aspects. As successors to St Peter, the disciple charged with the fulfilment of Christ's mission on earth, and as men uniquely privileged to interpret and develop Christian doctrine, the popes were both the leaders and the continuators of a faith. Then, thanks to their possession of the Papal State, the.popes were the rulers of a large part of Italy. To maintain their authority, enforce law and order; extract taxes and check incursions from rival territories they had to act like other, secular rulers, becoming fully enmeshed in diplomacy and war. The third aspect was administrative. The popes were the heads of the largest bureaucracy in Europe, maintaining contact with local churches through the making or licensing of appointments, the management of clerical dues and taxation, the receipt of appeals in lawsuits conducted in terms of the Church's own canon law.

A number of matters, notably the making of appointments to especially wealthy sees and abbacies, or the incidence of taxation, could lead to conflict with secular authorities. This in turn led to the practice whereby monarchs retained the services of cardinals sympathetic to their national policies, so that they might have a voice at court, as it were, to influence popes in their favour. The choice of popes became increasingly affected by the known political sympathies of cardinals, and the pressure and temptations that could be applied to them. So onerous, various and inevitably politicized an office was not for a saint. The pious hermit Celestine V had in 1294 crumpled under its burden after only a few months.

The identification of the Papacy with Rome, which seems so inevitable, was long in doubt. The insecurity of the shabby and unpopulous medieval city, prey to the feuds of baronial families like the Orsini, Colonna and Caetani, had already forced the popes from time to time to set up their headquarters elsewhere in Italy. For the greater part of the 14th century (1309-77) the Papacy funetioned out of Italy altogether, at Avignon, building there (especially the huge Palace of the Popes) on a scale that suggested permanence. Though they were by no means in the pockets of their neighbours the kings of France, criticism of undue influence steadily mounted. Provence ceased to be a comfortingly secure region as the Hundred Years War between England and France proceeded. Finally the breakdown of central authority in the Papal State, despite the efforts there of such strenuous papal lieutenants as Cardinal Albornoz (in 1353-67), prompted Gregory XI to return to Rome in 1377.

The period of authority and cultivated magnificence associated with the Renaissance Papacy was, however, to be long delayed. The return to Rome was challenged by a group of cardinals faithful to France. On Gregory's death in 1378 their election of a rival or antipope opened a period of divided authority, further complicated in 1409 by the election of yet a third pope. This situation deepened the politicization of the papal office (for support to the rivals was given purely on the basis of the dynastic conflicts in Europe) and confused the minds, if it did no serious damage to the faith, of individuals. But the remedy was another blow to the recovery of papal confidence and power. To resolve the problem of divided authority, protect the faith from the extension of heresy (especially in the case of the Bohemian followers of John Huss), and bring about an improvement in the standards of education and deportment among the Church's personnel, it was at last resolved to call together a General Council of the Church. It was argued that such a council, which met at Constance 1414-18, would, by being representative of the Christian faithful as a whole; possess an authority which, in the eyes of God, could supersede that of a pope. In this spirit Huss was tried and executed, a number of reforms relating to the clergy were passed and, above all (for this was the only measure with permanent consequences), two of the rival popes were deposed and the other forced to abdicate; Martin V being elected by a fairly united body of cardinals.

There remained; however, the challenge to his authority represented by the conciliar theory itself: that final authority could be vested as well in a group (if properly constituted) as in an individual. This view was expressed again by the Council of Basle, which lasted from 1431 until as late as 1449. Not until 1460 did a pope feel strong enough to make rejection of the theory an article of faith, as Pius II did in his bull 'Execrabilis'. By then, however, in spite of further absences from Rome, notably that of Eugenius IV (1431-40), who governed the Church chiefly from Florence, the acceptance of the city as the most practical - as well, from the point of view of its religious associations, the most appropriate - base for the Papacy had been made clear in the plans of Nicholas V for improving it. Thenceforward the creation of a capital commensurate with the authority of the institution it housed continued steadily. As at Avignon, fine buildings and a luxurious style of life were, as such, considered perfectly suitable for the role played by the head of the Church: a view exemplified in episcopal and archiepiscopal palaces all over Europe. However, the creation of a cultural capital, through lavish patronage of artists, scholars and men of letters, as well as a governmental one, not only contributed to an atmosphere of worldliness that aroused criticism, but may also have diverted the popes from registering the true import of the spiritual movements that were to cause the Reformation conflict of faiths. The fortunes of the Papacy from its return to Rome can be followed in the biographies of its outstanding representatives.

paragone ('comparison')

In an art historical context paragone refers to debates concerning the respective worthiness of painting and sculpture. The first protracted discussion was compiled from passages scattered through the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. It is one of the topics dealt with in Castiglione's The courtier, and in 1546 Benedetto Varchi even sent a questionnaire on the subject to sculptors (including Michelangelo and Cellini) and painters (including Pontormo and Vasari). Apart from demonstrating an aspect of the interest taken in the arts, it acted as a stimulus to the development of the language and concepts through which art could be appraised and understood, as did the parallel discussion of the respective merits of painting and poetry.


Writing material made from the skins of sheep or calf, less frequently pig, goat,, and other animals; it has also been used for painting, and occasionally for printing and bookbinding. Pliny says that it ewas invented in the 2nd century BC in Pergamum; hence the name parchment from the Latin pergamena (of Pergamum). Skin had been used as a writng material before this, but the refined methods of cleaning and stretching involved in making parchment enabled booth sides of a leaf to be used, leading eventually to the supplanting of the manuscript roll by the bound book. Vellum is a fine kind of parchment made from delicate skins of young (sometimes stillborn) animals. Paper began to replace parchment from about the 14th century, but parchment is still used for certain kinds of documents, and the name is often applied to high-quality writng paper.

Parrhasius (c. 420 BC)

Greek painter of the late classical period (c. 400-300 BC), and with Zeuxis (c. 425 BC) and Apelles (c. 330 BC) one of the most famous artists of the classical age.

pastoral (Lat. pastor, "shepherd")

Relating to a romantic or idealized image of rural life; in classical literature, to a world peopled by shepherds, nymphs, and satyrs.


The events leading up to Good Friday, beginning with Christ's arrest and ending with his burial. Portrayals of the Passion, which focus on the Suffering Christ, include depictions of Judas betraying Christ with a kiss, Peter cutting off Malchus's ear, the crown of thorns, and so on.


A drawing medium of dried paste made of ground pigments and a water-based binder that is manufactured in crayon form.

pastiche (fr.) or pasticcio (It.)

A work of art using a borrowed style and usually made up of borrowed elements, but not necessarily a direct copy. A pastiche often verges on conscious or unconscious caricature, through its exaggeration of what seems most typical in the original model.

patrician (Lat. patricius, "father")

originally a member of the ancient Roman nobility; from the Middle Ages onwards a term for a noble, wealthy citizen.

pavilion (Lat. papilio, "butterfly, hence tent")

A lightly constructed, ornamental building, such as a garden summerhouse; a small, ornamental structure built onto a palace or cháteau; a prominent section of a monumental façade, projecting either centrally or at both ends.

Pazzi conspiracy

Pazzi conspiracy (April 26, 1478), unsuccessful plot to overthrow the Medici rulers of Florence; the most dramatic of all political opposition to the Medici family. The conspiracy was led by the rival Pazzi family of Florence.

In league with the Pazzi were Pope Sixtus IV and his nephew Girolamo Riario, who resented Lorenzo de' Medici's efforts to thwart the consolidation of papal rule over the Romagna, a region in north-central Italy, and also the archbishop of Pisa, Francesco Salviati, whom Lorenzo had refused to recognize. An assassination attempt on the Medici brothers was made during mass at the Cathedral of Florence on April 26, 1478. Giuliano de' Medici was killed by Francesco Pazzi, but Lorenzo was able to defend himself and escaped only slightly wounded. Meanwhile, other conspirators tried to gain control of the government. But the people of Florence rallied to the Medici; the conspirators were ruthlessly pursued and many (including the archbishop of Pisa) were killed on the spot.

The failure of the conspiracy led directly to a two-year war with the papacy that was almost disastrous for Florence. But the most important effect was to strengthen the power of Lorenzo, who not only was rid of his most dangerous enemies but also was shown to have the solid support of the people.

Peace of Augsburg

A treaty, concluded in 1555 between Emperor Ferdinand I and the German Electors, that settled the religious conflict in the German states. The Lutheran and Roman Catholic Churches were given equal legal status within the Empire, and it was agreed that subjects should follow the religion of their rulers.


a gable supported actually or apparently on columns.

pendant (Fr. "hanging, dependent")

One of a pair of related art works, or related elements within an art work.


curving triangular area linking a round dome to the square space below.

pentimenti (Italian "regrets")

Changes undertaken by an artist in the course of painting a picture. They are usually visible under the final version only with the help of X-rays, though they are sometimes revealed when the top layers of paint are worn away or become translucent.

pergola (It.)

A passageway covered by a trellis on which climbing plants are grown.


the last of the three major styles of Gothic architecture in England, c. 1331-1530. It is characterized by comparatively simple decoration and soaring vertical lines, hence its name. It was preceded by the Decorated style.

personification (Lat. persona, "person", and facere, "make")

an imaginary person conceived as representing a thing, concept or deity.

perspective (Lat. perspicere, "to see through, see clearly")

The method of representing three-dimensional objects on a flat surface. Perspective gives a picture a sense of depth. The most important form of perspective in the Renaissance was linear perspective (first formulated by the architect Brunelleschi in the early 15th century), in which the real or suggested lines of objects converge on a vanishing point on the horizon, often in the middle of the composition (centralized perspective). The first artist to make a systematic use of linear perspective was Masaccio, and its principles were set out by the architect Alberti in a book published in 1436. The use of linear perspective had a profound effect on the development of Western art and remained unchallenged until the 20th century.

physiognomy (Gk. physis, "nature", and gnomon, "interpreter")

the external appearance of a person, in particular the face.

piano nobile (Ital.)

The main floor of a building, usually above the ground floor, containing the public rooms.

picture plane

In the imaginary space of a picture, the plane occupied by the physical surface of the work. Perspective appears to recede from the picture plane, and objects painted in trompe-l'oeil may appear to project from it.


Term covering a set of attitudes towards landscape, both real and painted, that flourished in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It indicated an aesthetic approach that found pleasure in roughness and irregularity, and an attempt was made to establish it as a critical category between the 'beautiful' and the 'Sublime'. Picturesque scenes were thus neither serene (like the beautiful) nor awe-inspiring (like the Sublime), but full of variety, curious details, and interesting textures — medieval ruins were quintessentially Picturesque. Natural scenery tended to be judged in terms of how closely it approximated to the paintings of favoured artists such as Gaspard Dughet, and in 1801 the Supplement to Samuel Johnson's Dictionary by George Mason defined 'Picturesque as: 'what pleases the eye; remarkable for singularity; striking the imagination with the force of painting; to be expressed in painting; affording a good subject for a landscape; proper to take a landscape from.' The Picturesque Tour in search of suitable subjects was a feature of English landscape painting of the period, exemplified, for example, in the work of Girtin and (early in his career) of Turner, and the Picturesque generated a large literary output; much of it was pedantic and obsessive and it became a popular subject for satire.


One of the massive supports on which an arch or upper part of a church stands. A pier is generally larger than a column, but may consist of a cluster of columns.

Pietà (Lat. [Maria Santissima della] Pietà, Most Holy Mary of Pity)

A depiction of the Virgin Mary with the crucified body of Jesus across her lap. Developing in Germany in the 14th century, the Pietà became a familiar part of Renaissance religious imagery. One of the best-known examples is Michelangelo's "Pietà" (1497-1500) in St. Peter's, Rome.

pigment (Lat. pigmentum, "colour substance")

coloured powder mixed with binding agents such as oil, glue, or resin to make paint.

pilaster (Lat. pilastrum, "pillar")

A flat, low-relief decorative strip on a wall that corresponds to a column in its parts, since, it has a base, a shaft, and capital. It is often fluted, in other words the surface is lined with parallel grooves.


a small turret-like architectural feature, often richly ornamented, that crowns parapets, pediments above windows or doors, flying buttresses, spires, tec.


Plague, which had been extinct in Italy from the 8th century, returned along eastern trade routes to strike the peninsula, and thereafter all Europe, in October 1347. During 1348 the Black Death, comprising the bubonic and still more deadly septicaemic and pneumonic forms of the disease, swept town and countryside in a series of attacks whose horror was strikingly portrayed by Boccaccio in his preface to the Decameron. Thenceforward, though in less widespread, more sporadic outbreaks, plague recurred periodically until the 18th century. Thirty per cent of the population of Venice died in the outbreak of 1575-7, for instance, which was commemorated by Palladio's church of the Redentore. Preventive measures included the boarding up of infected families, the isolation of sufferers in plague hospitals, the burning of 'infected' clothing, but none worked or mitigated the feeling of hopelessness. The plague's social effects are an object of controversy. It seems probable, however, that during the second half of the 14th century plague reduced the population of Italy by a half and at certain centres, such as Florence and Genoa, sharply accentuated an economic depression which had already set in during the 1340s. In the 15th century, despite regional variations, it is unlikely that population began to rise significantly before the 1470s.

Large claims have been made in the field of the arts and of human sensibility for the influence of plague. In Florence and Siena from 1348 to 1380, religious feeling and the art which mirrors it seem to assume more sombre forms and to reflect less the human and more the divine, transcendent and threatening aspects of faith. Yet the black rat and its plague-bearing flea could find a more hospitable environment in the hovels of the poor than in the stone-built houses of wealthy patrons of the arts (who, moreover, were often able to remove themselves from areas where plague had broken out). For this reason, perhaps, it is difficult to find, outside Tuscany, evidence of cultural change which could be attributed to plague, and in the Italy of the 15th and 16th centuries the main effect of the disease in art is to be found only in the frequent portrayal of the plague saints, Rocco and Sebastian. It is none the less interesting to recall that it was against a stark background of continual menace from plague that the human achievements of the Renaissance came into being.


Spanish Plateresco (Silversmith-like), main architectural style in Spain during the late 15th and the 16th centuries, also used in Spain's American colonies. Cristóbal de Villalón first used the term in 1539 while comparing the richly ornamented facade of the Cathedral of León to a silversmith's intricate work. Later the name came to be generally applied to late Gothic and early Renaissance Spanish architecture, since it was characterized by an intricate and minutely detailed relief ornament that is generally applied to the surface of buildings for extravagant decorative effect and without regard for structural articulation. Favourite motifs of this florid ornament include twisted columns, heraldic escutcheons, and sinuous scrolls. Clusters of this jewelry-like ornament contrast with broad expanses of flat wall surface.

The Plateresque style went through two distinguishable phases. The first phase, termed the Isabelline style because it flourished during the reign of Isabella I, lasted from about 1480 to about 1540. In this phase (also known as the Gothic-Plateresque style), the forms of late Flamboyant Gothic still predominate, and Renaissance elements are used with only imperfect understanding. The first phase, like its successor, utilized Mudejar ornament -, i.e., the intricate and elegant decorative patterns used by Moorish artists working in Christian-ruled Spain. The Isabelline style is well represented in the buildings of Enrique de Egas and Diego de Riaño and is typified by the facade of the College of San Gregorio in Valladolid (1488), in which architectural ornamentation seems free from all external dictates and pursues its own life without regard to scale, composition, placement, or appropriateness.

The second phase, the Renaissance-Plateresque, or simply the Plateresque, lasted from about 1525 to 1560. The architect and sculptor Diego de Siloé (d. 1563) helped inaugurate this phase, in which High Renaissance structural and decorative elements clearly predominated over late Gothic ones. In the Granada Cathedral (1528-43) and other buildings, Diego evolved a purer, more severe, harmonious, and unified style using massive geometric forms; correct classical orders became frequent, and nonstructural Gothic ribbing tended to disappear in favour of Italianate round arches and domical vaults. The buildings of Alonso de Covarrubias and of Rodrigo Gil de Hontañón, particularly the latter's facade of the University of Alcalá de Henares (1541-53), are the masterworks of the second style, which lasted only a few decades. Even the balance and correctness of the style seemed excessively rich to the sombre young man who became King Philip II in 1556 and supervised construction of the severe El Escorial.

Plato and neo-Platonism

The Renaissance revival of Platonism and neo-Platonism was one of the characteristic intellectual features of the Renaissance. In fields ranging from literature (Castiglione and Ronsard) to science (Bruno and Galileo) it exerted a great influence in all parts of Europe from Portugal and Scotland to Hungary and Poland. The founder of one of the two most influential ancient schools of philosophy, Plato (428-348 BC) was born at Athens. A student of Socrates, he continued to develop his philosophy after the master's death in 399, and was in turn the teacher of Aristotle. Writing in a forceful and compelling style mostly cast in dialogue form, Plato was the author of some 30 works of lasting fame including the Republic, the Symposium, Phaedrus, Phaedo, Philebus, Timaeus, Theatetus and the Laws.

Plato's philosophy has a distinctly other-worldly character, emphasizing the spiritual and non-material aspects of reality. In contrast with Aristotle, he gives knowledge and philosophy an intuitive and intellectual basis, not so much dependent upon sense experience as on inspiration and direct mental contact with the supra-sensible sources of knowledge. Thus empirical science does not have a central role in Plato's thought, though mathematics is consistently stressed as being an important gateway to the natural world. Such themes as poetic inspiration and harmony, as well as the rigorous analyses of central moral doctrines such as justice and happiness, have ensured that his works were widely read for many centuries. Rather unsystematic, with many internal contradictions and points left unresolved, his works were already subjected to critical analysis and amplification by his earliest followers. Plotinus, the greatest of his ancient disciples, systematized and added to what Plato had done, turning the tradition in an even more mystical and spiritual direction, while at the same time giving the philosophy a more coherent form. 'Neo-Platonism' resulted from these modifications and those of other ancient Platonists.

Only a small proportion of Plato's works was known during the Middle Ages in western Europe, though indirect knowledge of Platonic doctrine through many late ancient sources secured a significant fortuna down to the 15th century. Petrarch favoured Plato over Aristotle as an authority and set the tone for the great Renaissance revival of interest in Platonism. The real re-emergence of Plato began around 1400, when Greek manuscripts of most of his works came into Italy from Constantinople. Latin translations of several works were made in the early 15th century, but only with Ficino were the entire writings first made available in Latin (published 1484). Ficino was also the founder of the informal Platonic Academy which met at the Medici villa at Careggi, near Florence. Ficino's interpretation went far beyond what could be found in the text of Plato, and he utilized many other writings, including those of Plotinus, Iamblichus, and Proclus and a range of pseudonymous texts, among them those attributed to Hermes Trismegistus and Orpheus, and the Chaldaic Oracles, all of which he also translated into Latin. He emphasized the close kinship between the Platonic philosophy and the Christian religion, seeing them as parallel paths to the truth connected at source, and holding that Plato had had access to the Pentateuch and absorbed some ideas from it: he agreed with Numenius (2c. AD) that Plato was a 'Greek-speaking Moses'.

Ficino's translations of Plato and the neo-Platonists were reprinted frequently and were the standard sources for knowledge of Platonism for several centuries. Among his Italian followers Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Francesco da Diacceto (1466-1522) were perhaps the most important, and Agostino Steuco (c. 1497-1548) developed Christian Platonism into a 'perennial philosophy'. The impact of Ficino's work gradually made itself felt be yond the confines of Italy, for example with Symphorian Champier (c. 1472-c. 1539) and Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples (c. 1460-1536) in France and John Colet (c. 1467-1519) and Thomas More (1478-1535) in England.

The first Greek edition of Plato's works was published by Aldus at Venice in 1513 , but the later edition published at Paris in 1578 by Henri Estienne achieved perhaps even greater fame. A new Latin translation, prepared by Jean de Serres (1540-98) to accompany Estienne's edition, partially, but not completely, replaced Ficino's. There was no complete translation into a vernacular language during the Renaissance, though various dialogues were rendered into Italian and French, the translations of Louis Le Roy (d.1577) becoming particularly popular. Unlike the case of Aristotle, the interest in Plato and neo-Platonism was largely outside the universities. It was especially in a number of academies in France and Italy that there was a focused reading of Platonic texts. The numerous editions and translations show that there was a wide general demand for his writings. Plato was read in the universities, if on a very limited scale: for example various dialogues were read from time to time as part of Greek courses. In the 1570s special chairs of Platonic philosophy were established at the universities of Pisa and Ferrara. The latter was held for 14 years by Francesco Patrizi of Cherso, one of the most forceful and original Platonic philosophers of the Renaissance.

plein-air painting (French; plein air "in the open air")

In contrast to painting in an atelier, this painting is done outdoors, under the sky, with the intention of realistically reproducing the natural features of a landscape, its atmosphere, and changes in light. Following the example set by English landscape painters such as Constable and Bonington, French painters, including members of the Barbizon School, began painting their pictures outdoors in the mid-19th century. The Impressionists made plein-air painting a fundamental principle of their painting.

plinth (Gk. plinthos, "tile")

square or rectangular section forming part of the base of a pillar, column, or statue.

plique-à-jour (French; "open to light")

In the decorative arts, technique producing translucent enamels held in an open framework made by soldering individual wires or delicate metal strips to each other, rather than to a supporting surface as in cloisonné. The unattached support, usually a sheet of metal or mica, can be easily removed after the enamels have been annealed and cooled, producing an effect not unlike a stained-glass window in miniature. Developed in France and Italy in the 14th century, this technique has been used largely for making vessels and jewelry.

pluvial (Med. Lat. pluviale, "rain cloak")

a long cloak in the shape of a semicircle which is open at the front, where a pectoral is used to close it. It is worn by bishops and priests as a ceremonial vestment on occasions other than mass, such as processions and consecrations.

pointed arch

In architecture, an arch rising to a point (instead of being round, as in classical architecture). The pointed arch is characteristic of Gothic architecture.


Painting style that appeared in France toward the end of the nineteenth century. The technique of the Neo-Impressionists of applying pure colours next to each other in order to create the actual colour only from a distance through optical mixing in the eye of the beholder was declared to be the supreme principle in painting by Georges Seurat, who rigorously developed it further by applying unbroken colours next to each other in a strict pattern of points or commas. This new technique, called Divisionism by Seurat, was exhibited to the public for the first time in 1884 in Paris at an exhibition of the Indépendents.

polychrome decoration

the gilding or coloured painting of a work of sculpture.

polyptych (Gk. poluptukhos, "folded many times")

A painting (usually an altarpiece) made up of a number of panels fastened together. Some polyptychs were very elaborate, the panels being housed in richly carved and decorated wooden frameworks. Duccio's "Maestà" (1308-1311) is a well-known example.

Pont-Aven, School of

Open association of artists who met regularly beginning in 1888 in the town of Pont-Aven in southern Brittany. The initiator of the group was Paul Gauguin, who rejected the concept of nature as promoted by the Naturalism movement and the Barbizon school. He emphasized the idea of the objects arising in personal impressions and their implementation through independent pictorial means. The Nabis and the Symbolists originated from the School of Pont-Aven. In addition to Gauguin, the main representatives of this movement include Emile Bernard, Paul Sérusier, and Armand Séguin.


a doorway. A portal recessed in several steps was frequently used in Romanesque architecture; this meant that the often relatively small entrance was given considerable emphasis on the façade.

portico (Lat. porticus, "columned hall")

Usually open porch supported by columns or pillars on the main entrance side of a buildings. Frequently supports a pediment.

portrait (in the Italian Renaissance)

The Roman portrait bust survived in the form of life-sized reliquaries of saints, but it was in 15th century Florence that the individual features and character of a contemporary sitter were accurately recorded by sculptors such as Donatello, Desiderio da Settignano, Mino da Fiesole and the Rossellino. A similar degree of realism occurs in 15th century tomb sculpture.

The equestrian portrait, based on antique statues such as the Marcus Aurelius monument (Rome, Campidoglio), was revived in the 14th century. Two examples in fresco are Simone Martini's Guidoriccio (c. 1328; Siena, Palazzo Pubblico) and the posthumous portrait of Sir John Hawkwood (1436; Florence, Cathedral) by Uccello, which gives the illusion of a 3-dimensional statue seen from below. The Venetian Republic ordered imposing monuments from Donatello (1447; Gattarnelata, Padua) and Verrocchio (14799; Colleoni, Venice), whilst other statesmen ordered their own images to be erected in public places, directly relating themselves to the military heroes of ancient Rome. Another form of political portraiture derived from antiquity was the commemorative portrait medal designed by artists such as Pisanello.

The carved or painted profile portrait became popular in the 1450s. The realism of the clear, flattened image, painted under the influence of Flemish examples by the Pollaiuolo brothers, Piero della Francesca and Botticelli, was superseded by the three-quarter and frontal portrait, psychologically more complex, such as Leonardo's enigmatic Mona Lisa (Paris, Louvre) with her momentary smile or Andrea del Sarto's arresting Portrait of a Man (London, National Gallery). The 16th century portrait became generalized, Lotto's Andrea Odoni (1527; Royal Collection) being an idealized concept of a collector rather than an individual. Group portraits, decorating whole rooms, include the narrative scenes of the Gonzaga court painted by Mantegna (completed 1474; Mantua, Palazzo Ducale) and the elaborate schemes commissioned by the Farnese family in Rome from Vasari (1546; Palazzo della Cancelleria) and Salviati (after 1553; Palazzo Farnese). Portraits were also incorporated into religious narratives, as in Ghirlandaio's fresco cycle painted for Giovanni Tornabuoni in S. Maria Novella, Florence (1486-90).


Post-Impressionism in Western painting, movement in France that represented both an extension of Impressionism and a rejection of that style's inherent limitations. The term Post-Impressionism was coined by the English art critic Roger Fry for the work of such late 19th-century painters as Paul Cézanne, Georges Seurat, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and others. All of these painters except van Gogh were French, and most of them began as Impressionists; each of them abandoned the style, however, to form his own highly personal art.


A technique for transferring the design on a cartoon to another surface. Fine holes are pricked along the contours of the drawing on the cartoon and then dabbed with fine charcoal powder so that a faint outline appears on the new ground.

Poussinist (French Poussiniste)

Any of the supporters of the supremacy of disegno ("drawing") over colour in the "quarrel" of colour versus drawing that erupted in the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in Paris in 1671. The quarrel was over the preeminent importance of drawing (i.e., the use of line to depict form) or colour in the art of painting. The Poussinists (followers of Nicolas Poussin) supported the Platonic concept of the existence in the mind of ideal objects that could be reconstructed in concrete form by a reasoned selection of beautiful parts from nature. Colour to the Poussinists was temporary, inessential, and only a decorative accessory to form. The Poussinists extolled the virtues of antiquity and Raphael, the Carracci, and the severe art of Poussin and were opposed by the party of the Rubenists, who had as their ideal masters Titian, Correggio, and Peter Paul Rubens.

As Poussin was a Frenchman, sometimes referred to as the "French Raphael," and Rubens was a Fleming who had been expelled from France when it was suspected that he was spying for the Spanish Netherlands, there was a strong nationalistic stake in the Poussinists' motivation. In 1672 the debate between colour and drawing was temporarily halted by the chancellor of the Academy, Charles Le Brun, who stated officially that "the function of colour is to satisfy the eyes, whereas drawing satisfies the mind."


The field of preaching was dominated by the religious orders, primarily the mendicants. Quite apart from the notorious incompetence of the secular clergy, members of regular orders were the acknowledged masters of pulpit oratory, of the sermon as an art form. This pre-eminence was not challenged even in the 16th century, when reformers called for the secular clergy engaged in the pastoral ministry, bishops especially, to discharge their preaching duties. The great preaching events of the year were still the Lenten sermons given by friars or monks of repute; star preachers journeyed all over Italy. The major collections of sermons published in the 16th century came from friars or monks, several of whom became bishops; sermons of bishops not drawn from the orders are hard to find.

Outstanding preachers of the 15th century whose sermons are extant are the Franciscans S. Bernardino da Siena and Bernardino da Feltre (d. 1494), together with the Dominican Savonarola. For the 16th century there are the Capuchin Ochino; the Franciscans Franceschino Visdomini (1514-73), Cornelio Musso (1511-74), bishop of Bertinoro and Bitonto, and Francesco Panigarola (1548-94), bishop of Asti; the Augustinian Canon Gabriele Fiamma (1533-85), bishop of Chioggia; and, from the secular clergy, Borromeo. The call to repentance was a major feature of Lenten sermons: here Bernardino da Feltre stood out for his harsh, minatory exhortations; Savonarola and Musso, in their appeals for communal religious renewal, took on the dramatic role of Old Testament prophets as if laying claim to divine inspiration. Mendicants of the 15th century castigated the vices of society, not least those of statesmen and prelates, but 16th century ones were more cautious here.

The styles of S. Bernardino da Siena and Bernardino da Feltre were earthy, abrasive even; Savonarola's by contrast was cultivated and his last sermons were complex and arcane; Ochino's unadorned style was peculiarly limpid and conveys a winged emotionality. The sermons of Visdomini, Musso and Panigarola on the other hand often strain after emotional effect by accumulation of rhetoric and largesse of poetic vocabulary; Panigarola is particularly noted for his literary conceits and has been viewed as a significant precursor of the literary Baroque. Fiamma's sermons, however, are not florid in style; his forte was allegorical explication of scriptural references. The flow of Borromeo's grandiose and sometimes emotive style shows how he, by contrast with the mendicant preachers, was versed in classical and patristic rhetoric. In general 16th century sermons were very free in their formal organization and in no way bound to the principles of construction laid down in medieval preaching manuals.

predella (It. "altar step")

An Italian word for the small strip of paintings which forms the lower edge or socle of a large altarpiece (pala). Such a polyptych consists of a principal, central panel with subsidiary side and/or top panels, and a predella: the predella usually has narrative scenes from the lives of the Saints who are represented in the panels above. Because of the small size of predelle - they are not usually more than 25-30 cm high, though often relatively very wide - they were frequently used for pictorial experiments that the painter did not wish to risk making in the larger panels. The first datable example seems to be that in Simone Martini's S. Louis of Toulouse (1317, Naples).


Typology - the notion that aspects of the life and mission of Christ were in many respects prefigured or foreshadowed in the Old Testament - had become popularized visually by the 14th century through versions of works like the Biblia pauperum with their pairs of illustrations: Brazen Serpent/the Crucifixion, Moses receiving the tablets of the Law/the Sermon on the Mount, Joseph sold into captivity/the betrayal of Christ, the temptations of Adam and Christ, Noah's Ark prefiguring the Church as a means of human salvation, and so forth. Strengthened by the 15th century wish to find anticipations of Christian teachings in the ancient world (e.g. the Sybils as the pagan counterparts of the Prophets), this fascination with parallels gave rise to whole cycles, like the frescoes on the walls of the Sistine Chapel showing scenes from the life of Moses answered by scenes from that of Christ, as well as providing some extremely recondite reasons for the choice of Old Testament subjects. The New Testament references in these would, however, have been caught at the time because of the continued popularity of typological analogies in sermons and devotional literature.


A group of English artists, among them Holman Hunt, Millais and Rossetti, who in 1848 formed the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, aiming to produce work in the spirit which imbued Italian artists before Raphael's move to Rome. The movement was a mixture of romantic medievalism and the desire to return to a realistic depiction of nature, disregarding what they considered to be the arbitrary rules of academic art. These preoccupations were unified by a kind of seriousness which turned painting into a moral as well as an aesthetic act. The group also had an impact on the decorative arts through painted furniture, tapestries, stained glass and designs for fabric and wallpaper.

presbytery (or choir) (Gk. presbyterion "Council of Elders")

The raised space at the end of a church's nave which contains the high altar and is reserved for members of the clergy.

presentation drawings

Evolving naturally as a consequence of contemporary workshop practice, these highly finished drawings, intended as complete works of art in themselves, seem to have first assumed an importance in the bottega of Verrocchio. They acquired under Leonardo and especially Michelangelo the role of high art for a privileged few. That the recipients of these drawings studied them carefully is made clear in contemporary letters, again indicative of the purpose they served. The term is perhaps a little too freely applied.


A prayer stool or desk with a low, projecting shelf on which to kneel. The praying person's arms rested on the upper part.

Prix de Rome

A scholarship, founded concurrently with the French Academy in Rome (1666), that enabled prize-winning students at the Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in Paris to spend a period (usually 4 years) in Rome at the state's expense. Prizes for architecture began to be awarded regularly in 1723, and prizes for engravers and musicians were added in the 19th century. The prizes were meant to perpetuate the academic tradition and during the 18th and 19th centuries winning the award was the traditional stepping stone to the highest honours for painters and sculptors. Many distinguished artists (as well as many nonentities) were Prix de Rome winners, notably David, Fragonard, and Ingres among painters and Clodion, Girardon, and Houdon among sculptors. The prizes are still awarded and the system has been adopted by other countries.

profil perdu (Fr. "lost profile")

A pose in which the figure's head is turned away from the viewer so that only an outline of the cheek is visible.

proportion (Lat. proportio, "evenness")

in painting, sculpture and architecture, the ratio between the respective parts and the whole work. The following are important: 1. the Canon of Proportion, a mathematical formula establishing ideal proportions of the various parts of the human body. The unit of measurement is usually the relationship of the head to the torso (1:7 or 1:10); 2. the golden section, a line C divided into a small section A and a larger section B, so that A:B are in the same relationship as B:C; 3. the quadrature, which uses the square as a unit of measurement; 4. triangulation, which uses an equilateral triangle in order to determine important points in the construction; and 5. harmonic proportions, an analogy with the way sounds are produced on stringed instruments, for example an octave = 1:2 (the difference in pitch between two strings, one half the length of the other), a fifth = 2:3, a fourth = 3:4.


The origins of an art work; the history of a work's ownership since its creation. The study of a work's provenance is important in establishing authenticity.


A cleric who stands in for a parish priest; the steward or treasurer of a church.


A manuscript (particularly one for liturgical use) or a printed book containing the text of the Psalms. The great popularity and copious illustration of the psalter make it the most important illuminated book from the 11th to the 14th centuries. Thereafter the Book of Hours became the most important channel for illuminations.

putti sing. putto (It. "boys")

Plump naked little boys, most commonly found in late Renaissance and Baroque works. They can be either sacred (angels) or secular (the attendants of Venus).

| Previous page | Next page |