icon (Gk. eikon, "likeness")
a small, portable painting in the Orthodox Church. The form and colours are strictly idealized and unnatural. The cultic worship of icons was a result of traditionally prescribed patterns of representation in terms of theme and form, for it was believed that icons depicted the original appearances of Christ, Mary and the saints.
the destruction of works of art on the grounds that they are impious. During the 16th century, Calvinist iconoclasts destroyed a great many religious art works in the Netherlands.
iconography (Gk. eikon, "likeness", and graphein, "description")
The systematic study and identification of the subject-matter and symbolism of art works, as opposed to their style; the set of symbolic forms on which a given work is based. Originally, the study and identification of classical portraits. Renaissance art drew heavily on two iconographical traditions: Christianity, and ancient Greek and Roman art, thought and literature.
ignudi, sing. ignudo (It.)
Male nudes. The best-known are the male nudes on Michelangelo's Sistine ceiling.
illuminated manuscripts
Books written by hand, decorated with paintings and ornament of different kinds. The word illuminated comes from a usage of the Latin word 'illuminare' in connection with oratory or prose style, where it means 'adorn'. The decorations are of three main types: (a) miniature, or small pictures, not always illustrative, incorporated into the text or occupying the whole page or part of the border; (b) initial letters either containing scenes (historiated initials) or with elaborate decoration; (c) borders, which may consist of miniatures, occasionally illustrative, or more often are composed of decorative motifs. They may enclose the whole of the text space or occupy only a small part of the margin of the page. Manuscripts are for the most part written on parchment or vellum. From the 14th century paper was used for less sumptuous copies. Although a number of books have miniatures and ornaments executed in outline drawing only, the majority are fully colored. By the 15th century illumination tended more and more to follow the lead given by painters, and with the invention of printing the illuminated book gradually went out of fashion. During the 15th and 16th centuries illuminations were added to printed books.
The decoration of manuscripts, one of the most common forms of medieval art; because of its monastic origins, usually of religious texts. The practice extends from heavy decorations of initial letters and inter-woven margin patterns (as in Celtic examples) to miniatures and and full-page illuminations, often of a formal and grandiose kind (as in Byzantine manuscripts). Rich colors are a common feature, in particular a luxirious use of gold and silver. Illuminations survived the advent of printing for some time and only died out with the rise of printed illustration in the 16 century.
The painting techniques that create the realistic impression of solid, three-dimensional objects (such as picture frames, architectural features, plasterwork etc.)
imago pietatis (Lat. "image of pity")
A religious image that is meant to inspire strong feelings of pity, tenderness, or love; specifically, an image of Christ on His tomb, the marks of the Passion clearly visible.
imitato (It. "imitation")
In Renaissance art theory, the ability to imitate, to depict objects and people accurately and convincingly. Derived from classical literary theory, imitato was one of the key concepts of Renaissance art theory.
Paint applied in thick or heavy layers.
In architecture, the horizontal moulding or course of stone or brickwork at the top of a pillar or pier.
An emblem, used as a badge by rulers and scholars during the Renaissance, that consisted of a picture and a complementary motto in Latin or Greek.
In the Roman Catholic Church, the remission of punishment for sins. It dates back to the 10th-century practice of doing penances, from which the Church drew much practical benefit (foundation of churches, pilgrimages). In the early 16th century, the sale of letters of indulgence was an important source of income for the Church. Its degeneration into commercial trafficking became the subject of overt dispute between Martin Luther and Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz in 1517, and consequently became the focal issue leading to the Reformation.
initial (Lat. initialis, "at the beginning")
the first letter of the text in medieval manuscripts and early printed books, made to stand out emphatically by its colour, size, and ornamentation.
Coloured fluid used for writing, drawing, or printing. Inks usually have staining power without body, but printers' inks are pigments mixed with oil and varnish, and are opaque. The use of inks goes back in China and Egypt to at least 2500 BC. They were usually made from lampblack (a pigment made from soot) or a red ochre ground into a solution of glue or gums. These materials were moulded into dry sticks or blocks, which were then mixed with water for use. Ink brought from China or Japan in such dry form came to be known in the West as 'Chinese ink' or 'Indian ink'. The names are also given to a similar preparation made in Europe.
Inquisition Lat. inquisitio, "examination, investigation")
Medieval ecclesiastical institution for hunting down heretics and criminals; from 1231 papal Inquisitors (mainly Dominicans and Franciscans) were appointed. Pope Gregory IX (1227-1241) and the collection of decrees published in 1234 made the Inquisition a papal institution ("Sanctum Officium"), and it was later extended to include other offenses such as magic, witchcraft and fortune-telling.
the distinguishing marks or symbols of state or personal offices or honours.
instruments of the Passion of Christ (Lat. arma Christi, "weapons of Christ")
the term for the items central to the Passion of Christ (the scourging, the crowning with thorns, and the Crucifixion). They include the Cross; the spear of Longinus (the staff with the sponge soaked in vinegar) and the bucket containing the vinegar; the nails used to fasten Jesus to the Cross; the crown of thorns; and the inscription on the Cross. From the 13th century onwards, at the time of the Crusades, and particularly after the looting of Constantinople in 1204, countless relics of the Passion made their way to the Western world, and were the objects of special veneration. In art, Christ is shown as the man of sorrows surrounded by the instruments of the Passion, and they are also depicted on their own, with many further details added. For instance, there are representations of the bundle of rods, the scourge that was used in the scourging; the cloak and reed scepter that were part of the crowning with thorns; the rooster of Peter's denial; Judas' thirty pieces of silver; the pincers, the hammer, and the ladder; the veil of St. Veronica; as well as the heads and hands of Christ's tormentors.
a pictorial theme showing the intervention of the Virgin Mary, or of other saints, with God the Father or with Christ on behalf of individuals or whole families, usually the donors of a work of art.
International Gothic
European art was characteristic of a rare uniformity for 60-70 years around 1400. Art historians have still not been able to come to an agreement on an appropriate name for it. The term "art around 1400" suits the style best which, because of its prevalence is referred to as international Gothic. The terms court style, soft style, beautiful style, trecento rococo and lyrical style, etc. are also used in art literature. Elements of style which were generally wide-spread, did not belong to any particular country and were characteristic of art in courts. In the second half of the 14th century, models appeared in court art in the circle of French-Flemish artists serving at French courts and Bohemian regions of the Emperor's Court which determined works of art all over Europe at the end of the century. Human figures, landscapes and spaces in a realistic approach were accompanied by a peculiar quality of dreams, decorative dynamism and deep emotional charge. It is called as a soft style on the basis of lyrical expressions and drapes: it is more than a simple system of formal motifs, it denominates a kind of behaviour. Artists of the period were engaged in learning the human soul until their attention was attracted to the world (e.g. Donatallo, Masaccio and Jan van Eyck).
The final layer of plaster on which a fresco is painted.
inventio (It. "invention")
In Renaissance art theory, the ability to create; invention, originality. Derived from classical rhetoric, inventio was one of the key concepts of Renaissance art theory; because it was seen as being based on the use of reason, it gave art a far higher status than a craft and helped to establish the intellectual respectability of painting and sculpture.
Process by which an ecclesiastical or secular dignitary is appointed to his office.
Ionic order
One of the classical order of columns that was used during the Renaissance; its characteristics are a capital with curled volutes on either side.
Italianate painters
Group of 17th-century northern European painters, principally Dutch, who traveled in Italy and, consciously adopting the style of landscape painting that they found there, incorporated Italian models and motifs into their own works. Chief among the Italianates were Bartholomeus Breenbergh, Andries and Jan Both, Nicolaes Berchem, and Jan Asselijn. The Both brothers, of Utrecht, were to some degree rivals of the Haarlem-born Berchem. Andries painted the figures that populated Jan's landscapes. Berchem's own compositions were largely derived from the Arcadian landscapes of the French painter Claude Lorrain; a typical scene would contain shepherds grazing their flocks among classical ruins, bathed in a golden haze. Upon his return to Holland, Berchem occasionally worked in cooperation with the local painters and is said to have supplied figures in works of both Jacob van Ruisdael and Meindert Hobbema.
Northern artists, generally Dutch or Flemish, who adopt as far as possible a style based on Italian models or who import Italian motives into their repertory. The word is often used of 17th-century Dutch landscape painters like Asselyn, Both and Berchem, but is also used of 16th-century Flemings like Mabuse or van Orley, although they are usually called Romanists.


Congregation of hermits named after St. Jerome of Stridon which followed the Augustinians' rule with additions from St. Jerome's writings. Their main tasks were spiritual welfare and academic work.
The Society of Jesus, a Roman Catholic teaching order founded by St. Ignatius Loyola in 1534. The express purpose of the Jesuits was to fight heresy within the Church (they played a leading role in the Counter Reformation), and to spread the faith through missionary work in the many parts of the world recently discovered by Western explorers and colonists.


Knights of Malta
A military religious order established in 1113 - as the Friars of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem - to aid and protect pilgrims in the Holy Land. As their military role grew, encouraged by the Crusades, they became a powerful military and political force in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. In 1530 Emperor Charles V gave them the island of Malta as a base (hence their name from that date). They remained in power there until the end of the 18th century.


Last Supper
Christ's last meal with His disciples before His arrest and trial; the rite of communion is based on this. One of most famous depictions of the event is a fresco painted by Leonardo da Vinci.
League of Cambrai
Alliance against Venice lasting from 1508 until 1510 between Pope Julius II (1443-1513), Emperor Maximilian I (1459- 1519), Ferdinand of Aragon (1452-1516), Louis XII of France (1462-1515) and some Italian states.
A reading stand or desk, especially one at which the Bible is read.
Legenda Aurea (Lat. "golden legend")
A collection of saints' legends, published in Latin in the 13th century by the Dominican Jacobus da Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa. These were particularly important as a source for Christian art from the Middle Ages onwards.
Leipzig Disputation
A debate held in Leipzig in 1519 between Martin Luther and the theologian Johann Eck. The central themes were Luther's condemnation of the sale of indulgences, and his challenge to the doctrinal authority of the Pope and Church Councils.
liberal arts
These represented the subject matter of the secular 'arts' syllabus of the Middle Ages; first the preparatory trivium - grammar, rhetoric and dialectic, then the basis of a philosophical training, the quadrivium, comprising arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music. By the 13th century each had been given a pictorial identity, together with identifying attributes (e.g. a measuring rod for geometry) and exemplars (e.g. Pythagoras for arithmetic, Tubal for music).While treated with a stylistic variety that reflected current pictorial concerns, whether with iconographic completeness (Andrea da Firenze in the Spanish Chapel at S. Maria Novella in Florence), or with narrative (Pinturicchio in the Vatican) or with the nude (Pollaiuolo's tomb of Sixtus IV in St Peter's), the theme was left remarkably intact by artists whose own activity (save through the mathematics of perspective) was excluded from it as manual rather than liberal.
Horizontal structural member that span an opening in a wall and that carry the superimposed weight of the wall.
Small loggia: open arcaded walkway supported by columns or pillars.
loggia (It.)
A gallery or room open on one or more sides, its roof supported by columns. Loggias in Italian Renaissance buildings were generally on the upper levels. Renaissance loggias were also separate structure, often standing in markets and town squares, that could be used for public ceremonies.
love knot
A painted or sculpted knot interlaced with initials, commemorating a marriage.
The American landscape painting style of the 1850s-1870s, characterized by effects of light in landscapes, poetic atmosphere, often sublime, through the use of aerial perspective, and a hiding of visible brushstrokes. It is related to, and sometimes refers to Impressionism. Leading American luminists were Fitz Hugh Lane (1804-1865), John F. Kensett (1816-1872), Martin J. Heade (1819-1904), Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900), and Frederick E. Church (1826-1900).
lunette (Fr. "little moon")
In architecture, a semicircular space, such as that over a door or window or in a vaulted roof, that may contain a window, painting or sculptural decoration.


Group of Italian painters, active mainly in Florence c. 1855–65, who were in revolt against academic conventions and emphasized painterly freshness through the use of spots or patches (macchie) of colour. The name Macchiaioli (spot makers) was applied facetiously to them in 1862 and the painters themselves adopted it. They were influenced by the Barbizon School, but they painted genre scenes, historical subjects, and portraits as well as landscapes. Leading members included Giovanni Fattori (1825–1908), Silvestro Lega (1826–95), and Telemaco Signorini (1835–1901). Boldini and de Nittis were among the artists who sympathized with their ideas. The Macchiaioli had little commercial success, but they are now considered the most important phenomenon in 19th-century Italian painting. Sometimes they are even claimed as proto-Impressionists, but the differences between the two groups are as striking as the similarities; there is often a strong literary element in the work of the Macchiaioli, for example, and however bright their lighting effects, they never lost a sense of solidity of form.
A part song, originally sung without accompaniment, originating in Italy in the 14th century. It reached the heights of its popularity in the 16th century, with secular texts replacing sacred ones, and accompaniments, usually for the lute, being written. One of the leading composers of madrigals was Claudio Monteverdi.
magna mater (Lat. "great mother")
A mother goddess, especially when seen as the guardian deity of a city or state. Specifically, the goddess Cybele, who was adopted by the Romans in 204 BC.
Tin-glazed earthenware, particularly such ware produced in Italy. The term originally referred to the island of Majorca (or an alternate theory has it referring to Malaga), and designated only Hispano-Moresque lusterware; but since the 16th century it has been used to refer to Italian tin-glazed ware and imitations of the Italian ware. It is characterized by painted decoration of high quality executed in several colours on the dry but unfired tin glaze, generally with a final coating of clear lead glaze. The range of colours is typically limited to cobalt blue, copper green, manganese purple, antimony yellow, and iron red, with white provided by the tin-glaze material. When white is used for painting, it is applied onto a bluish-white glaze or blue ground. The luster is typically a golden colour derived from silver or a mother-of-pearl effect.
mandorla (It. "almond")
An almond-shaped radiance surrounding a holy person, often seen in images of the Resurrection of Christ or the Assumption of the Virgin.
Mannerism (It. maniera, "manner, style")
A movement in Italian art from about 1520 to 1600. Developing out of the Renaissance, Mannerism rejected Renaissance balance and harmony in favor of emotional intensity and ambiguity. In Mannerist painting, this was expressed mainly through severe distortions of perspective and scale; complex and crowded compositions; strong, sometimes harsh or discordant colors; and elongated figures in exaggerated poses. In architecture, there was a playful exaggeration of Renaissance forms (largely in scale and proportion) and the greater use of bizarre decoration. Mannerism gave way to the Baroque. Leading Mannerists include Pontormo, Bronzino, Parmigianino, El Greco and Tintoretto.
Man of Sorrows
A depiction of Christ during his Passion, bound, marked by flagellation, and crowned with thorns.
An overcoat, worn open, popular during the second half of the 15th century and the 16th century and often lined with fur along the hem and around the collar. It reached to the knee or foot, depending on the social class of the wearer.
A late Gothic and early Renaissance decorative style in Portugal in the early 16th century (named after Manuel I).
collective term for books or other documents written by hand; in a specific sense, the hand-written medieval book, the Codex manuscriptus, often ornamented with decorative borders, illuminated initials and miniatures, and containing works of ancient philosophy or scholarly, ecclesiastical, and literary texts. Manuscripts were usually produced on commission. At first the scriptoria (writing rooms) of monasteries transcribed the contents of famous manuscripts and made copies. Monastic communities in the Netherlands and northern Germany began producing manuscripts around 1383/84. Flanders, Burgundy, and in particular Paris became major centres for the mass production of breviaries (prayer books) and Books of Hours.
loosely applied to any hard limestone that can be sawn into thin slabs and will take a good polish so that it is suitable for decorative work; more strictly, it refers to metamorphosed limestones whose structure has been recrystallized by heat or pressure. Marbles are widely disseminated and occur in a great variety of colours and patterns, but certain types have been particularly prized by sculptors. The most famous of Greek white marbles in the ancient world was the close-grained Pentelic, which was quarried at Mount Pentelicon in Attica. The Elgin Marbles are carved in Pentelic. Widely used also were the somewhat coarser-grained translucent white marbles from the Aegean islands of Paros and Naxos. Parian marble was used for the celebrated Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. The pure white Carrara marble, quarried at Massa, Carrara, and Pietra Santa in Tuscany from the 3rd century BC, is the most famous of all sculptors' stones. It was used for the Apollo Belvedere, and was much favoured in the Renaissance, particularly by Michelangelo, who often visited the quarries to select material for his work. Neoclassical sculptors also favoured Carrara marble because of its ability to take a smooth, sleek surface, but it can look rather 'dead' compared with some of the finest Greek marbles.
marmi finti (It. "pretend marble")
A painted imitation of marble. Usually a decorative feature (on simulated architectural features) it was sometimes used in paintings, particularly by the artist Andrea Mantegna (1430/31-1506).
martyrdom (Gk. martyrion, "witness, proof")
the sufferings, torture and death inflicted on a person on account of his faith or convictions.
A term now loosely applied to the finest work by a particular artist or to any work of art of acknowledged greatness or of preeminence in its field. Originally it meant the piece of work by which a craftsman, having finished his training, gained the rank of'master' in his guild.
Mater Dolorosa
The Sorrowing Virgin at two Stations of the Cross, when the Virgin Mary meets her Son on his way to Calvary, or stands sorrowing beneath the Cross (Stabat Mater).
In architecture, a large ornamental plaquc or disc.
The medal came to artistic maturity within a remarkably short time of its introduction in 15th century Italy. This was partly because ancient Roman coins, which were beginning to be reverently collected, suggested (on a smaller scale) its form: profile portrait bust on the obverse, a different design on the reverse, an inscription running round the rim. Like the finest Imperial coins, the medal's purpose was commemorative. Without monetary value, and of non-precious metal (bronze or lead), it was a way of circulating a likeness to a chosen few; it anticipated the use of miniatures and was indeed frequently worn round the neck. And while the reverse could record a historical event or make a propaganda point related to its subject's career, more commonly it bore a design that purported to convey the 'essence', as it were, of the person portrayed on the other side. Given the admiration for the men and artefacts of ancient Rome, the stress on individual character, the desire for fame and the penchant for summing up temperament in symbols and images, it is easy to understand how quickly the fashion for commissioning medals spread. Its pioneer executant was Pisanello. The precedents before he began to cast medals in 1438-39 had been few and excessively coin-like. Within 10 years he had established the form the medal was to retain until the influence was registered of the reverseless, hollow-cast and wafer-thin medals of the 1560s and 70s made by Bombarda (Andrea Cambi). Pisanello's approach was first echoed by the Veronese Matteo de' Pasti (d. 1467-688). It was, perhaps oddly, not until the works from 1485 of Niccolò Fiorentino (Niccolò di Forzore Spinelli, 1430-1514) that Florence produced a medallist of the highest calibre. Other specialists in the medium included Sperandio (Sperandio Savelli, c. 1425-1504), L'Antico (Pier Jacopo Alari Bonacolsi, c. 1460-1528), Caradosso (Cristoforo Caradosso Foppa, 1452-1526/27). The work of these men, and of the many, often anonymous, who reflected them, is still coveted because it avoided the two medallistic errors: making a medal look like either an enlarged piece of money or a small sculptured plaque.
In Greek mythology, a Gorgon, the daughter of Phorkys and Kreto. A mortal monster with serpents in her hair and a gaze that turned people to stone. When Perseus cuts off her head, Chrysaor and Pegasos spring from her body. Her head features on Minerva's shield, supposedly to petrify her enemies.
Memento mori (Latin "remember you must die")
An object (most commonly a skull) reminding believers of the inevitability of death and the need for penitence. Other symbols of mortality include clocks and candles. A danse macabre with only one pair of dancers is also a known as a memento mori.
method of copper or steel engraving in tone. A Dutch officer, Ludwig von Siegen, is given credit for the invention of mezzotint c. 1640. The process then came into prominence in England early in the 18th century. Mezzotint involves uniform burring with a curved, sawtoothed tool by cradling it back and forth until the surface of the plate presents an all-over, even grain. This yields a soft effect in the print. The picture is developed in chiaroscuro with a scraper and a burnisher, every degree of light and shade from black to white being attainable. In pure mezzotint, no line drawing is employed, the result being soft without the sharp lines of an etching. Mezzotint was often used for the reproduction of paintings, particularly, in England, for landscapes and portraits. The process is essentially extinct today.
Term originally applied to the art of manuscript illumination but later used of paintings, usually portraits, executed on a very small scale. The earliest miniaturists (16th century) continued to use the materials of the illuminators, painting in gouache on vellum or card.
Minorites (also called Friars Minor and Observants)
In the Roman Catholic Church, a branch of the Franciscan order. The order came into existence in the 14th century as a reform movement wanting to return to the poverty and simple piety of St. Francis himself.
Mirrors of glass 'silvered' on the back began to supplement those of polished metal in the 14th century, though it was only in the 16th century that high-quality glass ones were made (at Murano) on a scale that made them one of Venice's chief luxury exports. The connection between the increasing use of mirrors and the art of make-up (the mirror was a familiar symbol of vanity) and personal cleanliness is unexplored, but they had an influence on the development of the self-portrait in painting: Vasari assumed that Simone Martini (d. 1344) 'painted himself with two mirrors in order to get his head in profile'. Parmigianino (d. 1540) took self-scrutiny to a thoroughly introspective level in his Self-portrait in a (convex) Mirror.
A high, pointed headdress worn by bishops.
Italian word used to describe a small version of a large picture, not strictly speaking a preliminary sketch, which was shown to the person or body commissioning the large work for approval before the final design was put in hand. Many such small versions, often quite highly finished, still exist, e.g. by Tiepolo and Rubens. Most modelli are in oil paint or a combination of chalk, ink and paint.
monochrome (Gk. monokhromatos, "one color")
Painted in a single color; a painting executed in a single color.
motto (Ital., "word, saying")
from the Middle Ages, a saying usually associated with a visual symbol. The invention of personal mottos, as distinct from those that were inherited in a family's coat of arms, was particularly widespread in the Renaissance period.


entrance porches in early basilican churches, and for interior vestibules across the western end of later churches.
naturalism (Fr. naturalisme)
a method of depiction in the fine arts and literature in which reality as the result of sensory experience rather than theory is represented as realistically and scientifically precise as possible.
nave (from Lat. navis, "ship")
the main interior space of a church building. It may have parallel aisles on each side, often separated from it by pillars, and is intersected by the transept, which cuts across it at the point where the choir begins.
A group of young, idealistic German painters of the early 19th century who believed that art should serve a religious or moral purpose and desired to return to the spirit of the Middle Ages. The nucleus of the group was established in 1809 when six students at the Vienna Academy formed an association called the Brotherhood of St Luke (Lukasbrüder), named after the patron saint of painting. The name Nazarenes was given to them derisively because of their affectation of biblical dress and hairstyles. They wished to revive the working environment as well as the spiritual sincerity of the Middle Ages, and lived and worked together in a quasi-monastic fashion. In 1810 0verbeck. Pforr, and two other members moved to Rome, where they occupied the disused monastery of S. Isidore. Here they were joined by Peter von Cornelius and others. One of their aims was the revival of monumental fresco and they obtained two important commissions which made their work internationally known (Casa Bartholdy, 1816-17, the paintings are now in the Staatliche Museen, Berlin; and Casino Massimo, Rome, 1817-29). Stylistically they were much indebted to Perugino, and their work is clear and prettily coloured, but often insipid. In general, modern taste has been more sympathetic towards the Nazarenes' simple and sensitive landscape and portrait drawings than to their ambitious and didactic figure paintings. The Nazarenes broke up as a group in the 1820s, but their ideas continued to be influential. Cornelius had moved in 1819 to Munich, where he surrounded himself with a large number of pupils and assistants who in turn carried his style to other German centres. The studio of Overbeck (the only one to remain permanently in Rome) was a meeting-place for artists from many countries; Ingres admired him and Ford Madox Brown visited him. William Dyce introduced some of the Nazarene ideals into English art and there is a kinship of spirit with the Pre-Raphaelites.
A style in European art and architecture from the mid 18th century until the end of the 19th century. Based as it was on the use of ancient Greek and Roman models and motifs, its development was greatly influenced by the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum, and by the theories of the German art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768). Intellectually and politically it was closely linked to the Enlightenment's rejection of the aristocratic frivolity of Rococo, the style of the Ancien Régime. Among Neoclassicism's leading figures were the French painter Jacques-Louis David (1744-1825), the German painter Anton Raffael Mengs (1728-1729), and the Italian sculptor Antonio Canova (1757-1822).
The accusation levelled against the popes of the Renaissance from Sixtus IV to Paul III (with Alexander VI as an especially opprobrious case), that they appointed nephews (nipoti) and other relations to clerical and administrative positions of importance, is as true as it is notorious. This sort of favouritism was an abuse of power. It subordinated spiritual fervour or trained bureaucratic competence to the accidents of relationship. But popes were temporal rulers of a large part of Italy as well as spiritual leaders: other rulers did not hesitate to use members of their own family as military commanders or policy advisers. Popes, moreover, were usually old when elected, surrounded by the supporters of their ex-rivals, confronted by a plethora of Vatican staff members either self-interested or in foreign pay. To conduct a vigorous personal policy it was not unnatural that popes should promote men of less questionable loyalty.
niello (Lat. nigellus, "black")
The art of decorating metals with fine lines engraved in black. The design is first cut into the metal and then filled with a black alloy that at high temperatures melts and fuses into the fine lines.
nimbus (Lat. "aureole")
The disc or halo, usually golden, placed behind the head of a saint or other sacred personage to distinguish him or her from ordinary people.
Nymphaeum (Gk.)
Series of classical fountains dedicated to the nymphs, Greek goddesses of Nature.


obsequies (Lat. obsequia, "services, observances")
Rites performed for the dead.
ogee arches
arches composed of two double-curved lines that meet at the apex.
oil paint
a painting medium in which pigments are mixed with drying oils, such as linseed, walnut, or poppy. Though oils had been used in the Middle Ages, it was not until the van Eyck brothers in the early 15th century that the medium became fully developed. It reached Italy during the 1460s and by the end of the century had largely replaced tempera. It was preferred for its brilliance of detail, its richness of colour, and its greater tonal range.
Oratorians (or the Congregation of the Oratory)
In the Catholic Church, an order of secular priests who live in independent communities, prayer and preaching being central to their mission. The Oratorians was founded by St Philip Neri (1515-1595).
oratory (or oratorium)
A place where Oratorians pray or preach; a small private chapel.
orders of architecture
In classical architecture, the three basic styles of design. They are seen in the form of the columns, capital, and entablatures. The earliest, the Doric order, was the simplest, with a sturdy, fluted column and a plain capital. The Ionic order had a slenderer column, a more elaborate base, and a capital formed by a pair of spiral scrolls. The Corinthian order was the most ornate, having a very slender column and a capital formed of ornately carved leaves (acanthus).
original sin
The tendency to evil transmitted to mankind by Adam and Eve's transgression in eating of the Tree of Knowledge; inborn sin.
Our Lady of Sorrows (or Mater Dolorosa)
A depiction of the Virgin Mary lamenting Christ's torment and crucifixion. There are several forms: she can be shown witnessing his ascent of Calvary; standing at the foot of the Cross; watching as the body of Christ is brought down from the Cross (Deposition); or sitting with His body across her lap (Pietà).
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