acanthus (Lat. acanthus Gk. Akantha, "thorn")
a thistle species very common in the Mediterranean. Its large, jagged leaves, curving in slightly at the tips, have been a favorite ornamental pattern since classical antiquity.
A shrine or niche framed by two columns, piers, or pilasters carrying an entablature and pediment (triangular or segmental).
aerial perspective
A way of suggesting the far distance in a landscape by using paler colours (sometimes tinged with blue), less pronounced tones, and vaguer forms.
alb (Lat. alba tunica, "white garment")
the white, ankle-length garment worn by priests during Mass, under the stole and chasuble.
all' antica (It. "from the antique")
(of an art work) based on or influenced by classical Greek or Roman art.
allegory (Gk. allegorein, "say differently")
A work of art which represents some abstract quality or idea, either by means of a single figure (personification) or by grouping objects and figures together. Renaissance allegories make frequent allusions both to both Greek and Roman legends and literature, and also to the wealth of Christian allegorical stories and symbols developed during the Middle Ages.
A picture or sculpture that stands on or is set up behind an altar. The term reredos is used for an ornamental screen or partition, not directly attached to the altar table but affixed to the wall behind it. A diptych is an altarpiece consisting of two panels, a triptych one of three panels, and a polyptych one of four or more panels. From the 14th to 16th century, the altarpiece was one of the most important commissions in European art; it was through the altarpiece that some of the most decisive developments in painting and sculpture came about.
Semicircular or polygonal circulation space enclosing an apse or a straight-ended sanctuary.
Device commonly used in 16th-century paintings and drawings whereby a figure or object is depicted not parallel to the pictorial plane but projected at an oblique angle to it, and so highly distorted. The viewer resolves the optical distortion of form that results by looking at the picture at the same oblique angle.
Anghiari, battle of
A Florentine and papal army defeated a Milanese force under Piccinino outside this town near Arezzo (29 June 1440). Macchiavelli, in his History of Florence, used it shamelessly as an example of the reluctance of mercenaries to risk death in battle: he put the casualties as 'one man killed, and he fell off his horse and was trampled to death', whereas sources available to him put the joint fatalities at some 300. It was a subject of a fresco painted by Leonardo da Vinci in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence (chosen because it was primarily a cavalry engagement and he could show horses in combat). The fresco rapidly decayed and its composition is best known from the sketch Rubens made of its central part.
the term for the event described in the Gospel according to St. Luke, when the Angel Gabriel brings the Virgin Mary the news that she is to bear her son, Jesus Christ. The Annunciation was among the most widespread pictorial subjects of European art during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
Antique, Classical world (Lat. antiquus, "old")
the classical age of Greece and Rome began with the Greek migrations of the 2nd millennium BC, and ended in the West in 476 AD with the deposition of the Roman emperor Romulus Augustulus (c. 475 AD); in the East it ended in 529 AD when the Platonic Academy was closed by Justinian (482 - 565 AD).
Antwerp Mannerists
Group of Antwerp painters of the early 16th century whose work is characterized by Italianate ornamentation and affected attitudes. Unconnected with later Mannerism.
Apelles (c. 330 BC)
one of the most famous painters of ancient Greece, noted above all for his startling realism. Painters of the Renaissance tried to reconstruct some of his compositions, which have come down to us in written accounts only.
Apocalypse (Gk. apokalyptein, "reveal")
the Revelation of St John, the last book of the New Testament. The wrath of God descending upon the earth is depicted in three visions; in the form of terrible natural catastrophes, in the battle between the forces and good and evil, and in the union of a new Heaven and new Earth in the Heavenly Jerusalem. The announcement of the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the world was intended to console the persecuted Christians and also prepare them for the horrors connected with the event.
Apocalyptic Madonna
the depiction of the Virgin Mary as the "Apocalyptic Woman" mentioned in the Revelation of St. John (Chapter 12, verse 1). She is "clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars"; she is described as pregnant, and her enemy is a dragon. In the wake of Mariological interpretations of this passage, Gothic art increasingly gave the Woman of the Apocalypse the features of the Virgin Mary, and after the l4th century the devoted relationship of mother and child was emphasized in depictions of the Apocalyptic Madonna, with reference to the Biblical Song of Songs.
Apocrypha (Gk. apokryphos, "hidden")
Jewish or Christian additions to the Old and New Testaments excluded from the Canon.
Apostle (Gk. apostolos, "messenger")
one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, chosen personally by him from amongst his large crowd of followers in order to continue his work and preach the gospels.
applied art
Term describing the design or decoration of functional objects so as to make them aesthetically pleasing. It is used in distinction to fine art, although there is often no clear dividing line between the two terms.
apse (Lat. absis, "arch, vault")
A semicircular projection, roofed with a half-dome, at the east end of a church behind the altar. Smaller subsidiary apses may be found around the choir or transepts. Also known as an exedra. The adjective is apsidal.
An engraving method related to etching but producing finely granulated tonal areas rather than lines. The term applies also to a print made by this method. There are several variants of the technique, but in essence the process is as follows. A metal plate is sprinkled with acid-resistant varnish, which is fused to the plate by heating, and when the plate is immersed in an acid bath the acid bites between the tiny particles of resin and produces an evenly granulated surface. The design is created by drawing on the plate with add-resistant varnish, and great variety of tone can be obtained by immersing in acid and varnishing in turn (the longer the add bites, the darker the tone). Aquatint was invented around the middle of the 18th century, and in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, was highly popular in England for reproducing watercolours (colour could be added by hand or by using several plates with different coloured inks). It has also been used as an original creative medium (sometimes in conjunction with other graphic techniques) by many distinguished artists, including Goya, Degas, Picasso, and Rouault.
arcade (Lat. arcus, "arch")
A series of arches supported by columns, piers or pillars. In a blind arcade the arches are built into a wall.
A mountainous area of Greece. In Greek and Roman literature, a place where a contented life of rural simplicity is lived; an earthly paradise peopled by shepherds.
The pointed arch is widely regarded as the main identifiable feature of Gothic architecture (distinct from the round arch of the Romanesque period). The three most common Gothic arches are the Equilateral, Lancet and Tudor.
architectonic (Gk. arkhitektonikos, "architectural")
Relating to structure, design, or organization.
architrave (It. "chiefbeam")
In classical architecture, the main beam resting on the capitals of the columns (i.e. the lowest part of the entablature); the moulding around a window or door.
archivolt (Ital. archivolto, "front arch," from Gk. archeiu, "begin, dominate," and Lat. voltus, "turned")
a set of concentric and projecting moldings with which the face of an arch is decorated. In Early Netherlandish art the archivolt is often depicted showing sculpted scenes relating to the central subject of a painting.
Ars Moriendi (Lat. "the art of dying well")
a small book on death; Late Medieval devotional tracts which described the battles between Heaven and Hell for the souls of the dying and recommended to Christians the proper way to behave at the hour of their death.
attribute (Lat. attributum, "added")
A symbolic object which is conventionally used to identify a particular person, usually a saint. In the case of martyrs, it is usually the nature of their martyrdom.
Augsburg confession
A classic statement of Lutheran doctrine, drawn up largely by Philipp Melanchthon and approved by Luther himself. It was presented to Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Augsburg 1530.
aureole (Lat. aureolus, "golden, beautiful")
a halo or "glory" enclosing the head or sometimes the whole body of a holy person.
Autobiography as a distinct literary genre was one of the more original products of the Renaissance; there had been relatively little of it in antiquity and even less in the Middle Ages. The Confessions of St Augustine provided the example of an inward autobiography - the story of the author's search for God - but no imitator was able to approach its level of introspection until Petrarch's Letter to posterity and Secretum. Dante's Vita nuova - and the Comedy - are intensely autobiographical but are not autobiographies. The roots of the secular autobiography are to be found in the books of ricordanze (memoranda) kept by Italian professional and business men from the late 13th century. From bare accounts of land purchases and marriage settlements, these personal notebooks could develop into family histories which might also contain soul-searching and self examinations, like those of the early 15th century Florentine merchants Goro Dati and Giovanni Morelli, or the Zibaldone quaresimale of Giovanni Rucellai (1457-85). Records of business ventures and public offices were the starting point for autobiographies of external action: while the Cronica of Jacopo Salviati is a fairly wooden account of captaincies and embassies 1398-1411, that of Buonaccorso Pitti is a lively narrative of fortunes won and lost through trading and gambling (written 1412-22). The Commentaries of Enea Silvio Piccolomini (Pius II) similarly concentrate on events, leaving the character of the author to be deduced from his actions. The supreme example of the (apparently) unconsciously revealing autobiography is the famous Life of Cellini: of the deliberately revealing one, that of Cardano.
The decision to move the Papacy here was made in August 1308 by Pope Clement V, who had been residing in France since 1305. The actual move was made in 1309. Six pontificates later, in 1377, the Papacy was brought back to Rome by Gregory XI. All the popes elected at Avignon were French, as were 113 of the 134 cardinals appointed during this time. Yet though the period has been called one of 'captivity' to France, the Avignonese residence was not one of uninterrupted truckling to French kings. The city was not on French territory: it belonged to the Angevin princes of Naples. 'Captivity', like Petrarch's 'unholy Babylon', which he likened to the harlot of the Apocalypse 'full of abominations and the filth of her fornication', was mainly a term of abuse directed at a Papacy that had acquired security enough to revive its legal and financial pretensions and to build lavishly and live well. Between 1100 and 1309 the popes had only spent 82 years in Rome. Avignon gave them a long breathing space to assemble the machinery and the values which characterized the Renaissance Papacy after its final resettlement in Rome.


In Greek and Roman mythology, the god of wine and fertility. Bacchic rites were often orgiastic.
baldachin, or baldacchino (It. "brocade")
Originally a textile canopy supported on poles and carried dignitaries and relics. Later, an architectural canopy of stone or wood set over a high altar or bishop's throne.
A rail supported by a row of small posts or open-work panels.
Group of relatively small, often anecdotal, paintings of everyday life, made in Rome in the mid-17th century. The word derives from the nickname "Il Bamboccio" ("Large Baby"), applied to the physically malformed Dutch painter Pieter van Laer (1592/95-1642). Generally regarded as the originator of the style and its most important exponent, van Laer arrived in Rome from Haarlem about 1625 and was soon well known for paintings in which his Netherlandish interest in the picturesque was combined with the pictorial cohesiveness of Caravaggio's dramatic tenebrist lighting. Because van Laer and his followers depicted scenes of the Roman lower classes in a humorous or even grotesque fashion, their works were condemned by both court critics and the leading painters of the classicist-idealist school as indecorous and ridiculous. The painter Salvator Rosa was particularly savage in his comments about the later followers of the style, whom he criticized for painting "baggy pants, beggars in rags, and abject filthy things." The Bamboccianti (painters of Bambocciati) influenced such Dutch genre painters as Adriaen Brouwer and Adriaen van Ostade.
banderole (It. banderuola, "small flag")
A long flag or scroll (usually forked at the end) bearing an inscription. In Renaissance art they are often held by angels.
Hall or chapel situated close to, or connected with, a church, in which the sacrament of baptism is administered. The form of the baptistery originally evolved from small, circular Roman buildings that were designated for religious purposes (e.g., the Temple of Venus, Baalbek, Lebanon, AD 273, and the Mausoleum of Diocletian, Spalato [Split, Croatia], AD 300); but because baptism originally was performed on only three holidays, Easter, Pentecost, and Epiphany, enlargement of the older Roman buildings became necessary to accommodate the growing numbers of converts. Baptisteries were among the most symbolic of all Christian architectural forms; and the characteristic design that was developed by the 4th century AD can be seen today in what is probably the earliest extant example, the baptistery of the Lateran palace in Rome, built by Sixtus III, pope between 432 and 440. The baptistery was commonly octagonal in plan, a visual metaphor for the number eight, which symbolized in Christian numerology a new beginning. As eight follows the "complete" number, seven, so the beginning of the Christian life follows baptism. Customarily, a baptistery was roofed with a dome, the symbol of the heavenly realm toward which the Christian progresses after the first step of baptism. The baptismal font was usually octagonal, set beneath a domical ciborium, or canopy, and encircled by columns and an ambulatory--features that were first used in the baptistery by the Byzantines when they altered Roman structures. Baptisteries commonly adjoined the atrium, or forecourt, of the church and were often large and richly decorated, such as those at Pisa, Florence, Parma, and Nocera in Italy; el Kantara, Alg.; and Poitiers, France. After the 6th century they were gradually reduced to the status of small chapels inside churches. In the 10th century, when baptism by affusion (pouring liquid over the head) became standard practice in the church, baptisteries, or baptismal chapels, were often omitted entirely. In most modern churches the font alone serves for baptism; something of earlier symbolism survives, however, in its usual location near the church door - an allusion to entering the Christian life.
Barbizon School
A group of naturalist landscape painters who worked in the vicinity of Barbizon, a village on the outskirts of the Forest of Fontainebleu, southeast of Paris, in the 1840s and 1850s. Théodore Rousseau (French, 1812-1867) was the founder of the group. Other members of the group were Jean-Baptist Corot (French, 1796-1875), Narcisse Diaz de la Pena (French, 1807-1876), Constant Troyon (French, 1810-1865), Jules Dupré (French, 1811-1889), Jean-François Millet (French, 1814-1875), and Charles-François Daubigny (French, 1817-1878). Their approach constituted an art movement which eventually led to both Realism and Impressionism. Daubigny was the first of the plein air painters.
Baroque (Port. barocco, "an irregular pearl or stone")
The period in art history from about 1600 to about 1750. In this sense the term covers a wide range of styles and artists. In painting and sculpture there were three main forms of Baroque: (1) sumptuous display, a style associated with the Catholic Counter Reformation and the absolutist courts of Europe (Bernini, Rubens); (2) dramatic realism (Caravaggio); and (3) everyday realism, a development seen in particular in Holland (Rembrandt, Vermeer). In architecture, there was an emphasis on expressiveness and grandeur, achieved through scale, the dramatic use of light and shadow, and increasingly elaborate decoration. In a more limited sense the term Baroque often refers to the first of these categories. The development of the Baroque reflects the period's religious tensions (Catholic versus Protestant); a new and more expansive world view based on science and exploration; and the growth of absolutist monarchies.
barrel vault
A ceiling that is like a continuous circular arch or tunnel, contrasted with vaults that are supported on ribs or a series of arches. Also tunnel vault.
basilica (Gk. stoa basilike, "king's hall")
a church building, usually facing east, with a tall main nave and two or four side aisles of lesser height. There may also be a transept between the nave and the choir, which is reserved for the clergy. Originally, the basilica was an ancient Greek administrative building, and the Romans used this form for markets and law courts; it then became a place of assembly for the early Christians, and thus a church.
Battle of Lepanto
Naval battle during the course of which the 208 ships belonging to the Holy League gained a decisive victory on 7 October 1571 over the 210 ships of the Ottoman Turkish fleet on the edge of the Gulf of Corinth.
Term applied to a style characteristic of much German and Austrian art and interior decoration in the period roughly between the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1815) and the Year of Revolutions (1848). The name derives from a fictional character called Gottlieb Biedermaier (sic) from the journal Fliegende Elssner (Flying Leaves), who personified the solid yet philistine qualities of the bourgeois middle classes, and the art to which he lent his name eschewed flights of the imagination in favour of sobriety, domesticity, and often sentimentality. There were, as is to be expected, no major painters associated with Biedermeier but many excellent practitioners, such as Waldmüller. The term is sometimes extended to cover the work of artists in other countries.
Unglazed ceramic, particularly porcelain, which is either not yet glazed, or which is to be left as it is. Biscuit porcelain, also incorrectly called bisque, is often employed to make miniature versions of marble statuary. It takes its name from its grainy texture.
Image, especially Spanish, in which still-life predominates, though it is often part of a kitchen or eating scene. The term was mainly used up to c. 1650 in Spain. These genre scenes were sometimes set in the rough public eating establishments from which they take their name. By association, however, the term was applied to a wide range of genre paintings depicting figures of humble origin, often with food and drink. As early as the 1590s Flemish and Italian kitchen and market scenes were referred to as bodegónes in Spanish inventories. Such paintings were imitated by Spanish artists. Bodegónes, such as those by Diego Velázquez, were often regarded as inconsequential and even disreputable by contemporary society. They were generally monochromatic so as to emphasize relief and volume. Due to the still-life aspects of bodegónes, over time the term came to refer to still-lifes in general; up until the mid-17th century, Spanish still-lifes, like their Dutch counterparts, were referred to by their specific contents.
Bolognese school
In the most restricted sense, the works produced and the theories expounded by the late 16th- and early 17th-century Italian painters Lodovico Carracci and his cousins, the brothers Agostino and Annibale Carracci.
Book of Hours
A prayer book used by laymen for private devotion, containing prayers or meditations appropriate to certain hours of the day, days of the week, months, or seasons. They became so popular in the 15th century that the Book of Hours outnumbers all other categories of illuminated manuscripts; from the late 15th century there were also printed versions illustrated by woodcuts. The most famous Book of Hours and one of the most beautiful of all illuminated manuscripts is the Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry (Musée Condé, Chantilly), illuminated by the Limburg Brothers for Jean de Berry.
bottom view
A form of perspective in painting that takes account of the viewer's position well below the level of the picture.
bozzetto(Italian, sketch)
Usually applied to models for sculpture, but can also be used for painted sketches, though these are more often called 'modelli'.
Strictly speaking, a small three-dimensional sketch in wax or clay made by a sculptor in preparation for a larger and more finished work. By extension, a rapid sketch in oil, made as a study for a larger picture.
A book of daily prayers and readings used by priest and monks.
An alloy of copper (usually about 90 per cent) and tin, often also containing small amounts of other metals such as lead or zinc. Since antiquity it has been the metal most commonly used in cast sculpture because of its strength, durability, and the fact that it is easily workable - both hot and cold - by a variety of processes. It is easier to cast than copper because it has a lower melting-point, and its great tensile strength makes possible the protrusion of unsupported parts - an advantage over marble sculpture. The colour of bronze is affected by the proportion of tin or other metals present, varying from silverish to a rich, coppery red, and its surface beauty can be enhanced when it acquires a patina.
A mass of stone built up to support a wall, usually necessary to strengthen those of great height. See flying buttress.
Byzantine art
The art ofthe Byzantine Empire, which had its capital in Constantinople (Byzantium), from the 5th century to the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453. Based largely on Roman and Greek art, Byzantine art also absorbed a wide of influences, notable from Syria and Egypt. Byzantine art was essentially a spiritual and religious art, its forms highly stylized, hieratic and unchanging (central images were thought to derive from original portraits). It also served to glorify the emperor. Among its most distinctive products were icons, mosaics, manuscript illuminations, and work in precious metals. The strong influence of the Byzantine style on medieval Italian painting can be seen in the works of Cimabue, Duccio, and Giotto.


A small, private room where works of art, valuables and curiosities were kept and contemplated at leisure; over time the term was used for the collections themselves. Renaissance cabinets played an important role in the development of museums and art galleries.
cabinet painting
A small painting which was intended to be viewed closely and at leisure in a Renaissance cabinet, a fact usually reflected in a highly finished style and the subject matter, which was often allegorical. Cabinet paintings and pieces first occur in the 15th century and are associated with the development of private collections.
A rod entwined with a pair of snakes, an attribute of Mercury and a symbol of healing and of peace.
caisson (Fr. casson, "a chest, box")
In architecture, a sunken panel in a ceiling or vault.
In architecture, a concavity in the form of a niche or cup, serving to reduce the apparent height of an alcove or chapel.
Small relief made from gems, glass, ceramics, or shell having layers of different colours and carved so that the design stands out in one colour against a background in another.
camera obscura
Ancestor of the photographic camera. The Latin name means "dark chamber," and the earliest versions, dating to antiquity, consisted of small darkened rooms with light admitted through a single tiny hole. The result was that an inverted image of the outside scene was cast on the opposite wall, which was usually whitened. For centuries the technique was used for viewing eclipses of the Sun without endangering the eyes and, by the 16th century, as an aid to drawing; the subject was posed outside and the image reflected on a piece of drawing paper for the artist to trace. Portable versions were built, followed by smaller and even pocket models; the interior of the box was painted black and the image reflected by an angled mirror so that it could be viewed right side up. The introduction of a light-sensitive plate by J.-N. Niepce created photography.
Bell tower, usually built beside or attached to a church; the word is most often used in connection with Italian architecture.
candelabra, sing. candelabrum (It. candela, "candle")
A large, usually decorated, candlestick, usually with several branches or arms.
cantoria, pl. cantorie (It.)
A gallery for singers or musicians, usually in a church. Two outstanding examples are those by the sculptors Andrea della Robbia and Donatello in Florence cathedral, both of which have richly carved marble panels.
A woven cloth used as a support for painting. The best-quality canvas is made of linen; other materials used are cotton, hemp, and jute. It is now so familiar a material that the word 'canvas' has become almost a synonym for an oil painting, but it was not until around 1500 that it began to rival the wooden panel (which was more expensive and took longer to prepare) as the standard support for movable paintings (the transition came later in Northern Europe than in Italy). Canvas is not suitable for painting on until it has been coated with a ground, which isolates the fabric from the paint; otherwise it will absorb too much paint, only very rough effects will be obtainable, and parts of the fabric may be rotted by the pigments. It must also be made taut on a stretcher or by some other means.
capital (Lat. capitellum, "little head")
The head or crowning feature of a column or pillar. Structurally, capitals broaden the area of a column so that it can more easily bear the weight of the arch or entablature it supports.
The term 'Caravaggisti' is applied to painters - both Italians and artists from other countries - who imitated the style of Caravaggio in the early 17th century.
Cardinal Virtues (Lat. cardinalis, "hinge")
the four principle virtues of Temperantia (Temperance), Fortitudo (Fortitude), Prudentia (Prudence) and Justitia (Justice) that were adopted from Plato (427-347 BC) in Christian ethics. Gregory the Great (540-604 AD) added the three so-called Theological Virtues of Fides (Faith), Spes (Hope) and Caritas (Love/Charity). At the height of the Middle Ages, this Christian system of Virtues was further extended.
Carmelites (Lat. Ordo Fratrum Beatae Mariae Virginis de Monte Carmelo)
"Brothers of Our Blessed Lady of Mount Carmel", a Roman Catholic order of contemplative mendicant friars. Founded in Palestine in the 12th century, the Carmelites were originally hermits. In the 13th century the order was refounded as an order resembling the Dominicans and Franciscans. An order of Carmelite sisters was founded in the 15th century; in the 16th century reforms introduced by St. Teresa of Ávila led to the creation of the Barefoot (Discalced) Carmelites.
cartellino, pl. cartellini
In a painting, a simulated piece of paper that carries an inscription bearing the artist's signature, the date of the painting, details of the subject, or a motto.
Carthusian Order (Lat. Ordo Cartusiensis
strict Catholic monastic order founded in 1084 by Bruno of Cologne (1032-1101) in the Grande Chartreuse, near Grenoble. The order combines reclusive and community life. New Charterhouses, monasteries containing separate hermitages, were built in the 14th and 15th centuries, and the order became receptive to late medieval mysticism, and humanism, the endeavour to attain true humanity.
cartoon (It. cartone, "pasteboard")
A full-scale preparatory drawing for a painting, tapestry, or fresco. In fresco painting, the design was transferred to the wall by making small holes along the contour lines and then powdering them with charcoal in order to leave an outline on the surface to be painted. In the 19th centurry designs submitted in a competition for frescos in the Houses of Parliament in London were parodied in the magazine Punch. From this the word has acquired its most common meaning today - a humorous drawing or parody.
An ornate painted panel on which an inscription can be written.
caryatid (Gk. "priestess")
A carved female figure used in architecture as a column to support an entablature.
Cascina, battle of
The Florentines defeated a Pisan force here on 28 July 1364, taking some of them by surprise while they bathed in the Arno. The engagement is best known as the subject of a fresco commissioned for the Palazzo Vecchio from Michelangelo. Worked on at intervals 1504-06, this remained unfinished and is known (partly)only from a somewhat later copy of the cartoon, and from the contemporary fame the cartoon acquired for its treatment of the abruptly alerted bathers.
cassone (It. chest)
Usually used as a marriage chest, and the most elaborately decorated piece of furniture of the Renaissance. Cassoni traditionally were made in pairs and sometimes bore the respective coats of arms of the bride and groom. They contained the bride's clothes, linen, and many other items of her dowry. In the 15th century, when the greatest importance was attached to suitable marital alliances between Florence's wealthiest families, the cassone reached great heights of artistic achievement. Florentine artists such as Sandro Botticelli, Paolo Uccello, and Donatello were employed to decorate cassoni with paintings set in an architectural framework. Battle scenes and classical and literary themes were especially popular. A number of paintings from cassoni of this period have been preserved. Sixteenth-century cassoni were elaborately carved with mythological and grotesque figures, decorated with gilt gesso, putti (cupids), and swags of fruit and flowers, or enriched with intarsia (mosaics of wood). Although the finest marriage chests came from Italy, they were also used in other countries.
castello (It.)
"castle", palace.
cathedral (cathedra, seat or throne)
The principal church of a province or diocese, where the throne of the bishop is placed. For reasons lost to time and tradition, a cathedral always faces west - toward the setting sun. The altar is placed at the east end. The main body, or nave, of the cathedral is usually divided into one main and two side aisles. These lead up to the north and south transepts, or arms of the cross, the shape in which a cathedral is usually formed.
Catholic reform
Attempts between the 15th and 16th centuries to eliminate deficiencies within the Roman Catholic Church (such as financial abuses, moral laxity in the clergy and so on).
central perspective (Lat. centralis, "in the centre", and perspicere, "see clearly')
a scientific and mathematical method of three-dimensional representation developed by Filippo Brunelleschi (1376 -1446) at the beginning of the 15th century. Relative to the observer, all the converging lines lead toward a single vanishing point at the centre of the composition. An illusion of depth is created on two-dimensional picture surfaces by precise foreshortening and proportioning of the objects, landscapes, buildings and figures that are being depicted, in accordance with their distance from the observer.
A cup used in the celebration of the Christian Eucharist. Both the statement of St. Paul about "the cup of blessing which we bless" (1 Corinthians 10:16) and the accounts of the institution of the Eucharist in the first three Gospels indicate that special rites of consecration attended the use of the chalice from the beginning. It was not until the recognition of Christianity by the Roman Empire in the 4th century that silver and gold became the usual materials for the chalice. In the Middle Ages the legend of the Holy Grail surrounded the origins of the eucharistic chalice with a magical aura. The precious stones and elaborate carvings employed for the embellishment of chalices have made them an important part of the history of ecclesiastical art.
champlevé (Fr. 'raised ground')
A technique dating from Roman times or earlier, in which grooves cut in the surface of a thick metal plaque (usually of bronze or copper, but sometimes of gold) are filled with enamel and fired. The glass powder melts filling the carved areas with solid glass.
cherub (plural cherubim)
In Jewish, Christian, and Islamic literature, a celestial winged being with human, animal, or birdlike characteristics; a throne bearer of the deity. Derived from ancient Near Eastern mythology and iconography, these celestial beings serve important liturgical and intercessory functions in the hierarchy of angels. Old Testament descriptions of the cherubim emphasize their supernatural mobility and their cultic role as throne bearers of God, rather than intercessory functions. In Christianity the cherubim are ranked among the higher orders of angels and, as celestial attendants of God, continually praise him.
chiaroscuro (It. "light dark")
In painting, the modelling of form (the creation of a sense of three-dimensionality in objects) through the use of light and shade. The introduction of oil paints in the 15th century, replacing tempera, encouraged the development of chiaroscuro, for oil paint allowed a far greater range and control of tone. The term chiaroscuro is used in particular for the dramatic contrasts of light and dark introduced by Caravaggio. When the contrast of light and dark is strong, chiaroscuro becomes an important element of composition.
chiaroscuro woodcut
A printing technique in which several printing blocks are used, each producing a different tone of the same color so as to create tonal modeling. Hans Wechtlin experimented with the process in Strassburg between 1504 and 1526, but Ugo da Carpi's claims to have invented it in Venice in 1516 were generally accepted. North of the Alps, various painters experimented with using blocks of different color to produce novel artistic emphases, notably Lucas Cranach (1506), Hans Burgkmair (1510), and Albrecht Altdorfer (1511/20).
The knightly class of feudal times. The primary sense of the term in the European Middle Ages is "knights," or "fully armed and mounted fighting men." Thence the term came to mean the gallantry and honour expected of knights. Lastly, the word came to be used in its general sense of "courtesy." In English law "chivalry" meant the tenure of land by knights' service. The court of chivalry instituted by Edward III, with the lord high constable and earl marshal of England as joint judges, had summary jurisdiction in all cases of offenses of knights and generally as to military matters. The concept of chivalry in the sense of "honourable and courteous conduct expected of a knight" was perhaps at its height in the 12th and 13th centuries and was strengthened by the Crusades, which led to the founding of the earliest orders of chivalry, the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem (Hospitalers) and the Order of the Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon (Templars), both originally devoted to the service of pilgrims to the Holy Land. In the 14th and 15th centuries the ideals of chivalry came to be associated increasingly with aristocratic display and public ceremony rather than service in the field.
choir (Gk. choros, "group of singers and dancers")
the part of a church interior, usually raised and set apart from the rest of the church, reserved for the clergy to pray together, or for choral singing. Since Carolingian times, "choir" has been the word for the part of the central nave of the church extending over the crossing (the place where nave and transept intersect), and including the apse (a niche in the wall, roofed with a half dome) that often stands at the end of this area.
Christus Patiens and Christus Triumphans
are the names given to the two main types of the very large painted crucifixes which normally stood on the rood-screens of medieval churches. Very few still exist in their original positions, most of the surviving examples having been cut down in size and transferred to chapels or sacristies. The Christus Patiens (Suffering Christ) represents Christ as dead on the cross, whereas the Triumphans type represents Him with open eyes and outstretched arms standing on (rather than hangign from) the Cross. The dramatic emphasis of the Patiens type is certainly to be connected with the influence of St Francis of Assisi. An early example is provided by the work of Giunta Pisano.
Spanish Churrigueresco, Spanish Rococo style in architecture, historically a late Baroque return to the aesthetics of the earlier Plateresque style. In addition to a plethora of compressed ornament, surfaces bristle with such devices as broken pediments, undulating cornices, reversed volutes, balustrades, stucco shells, and garlands. Restraint was totally abandoned in a conscious effort to overwhelm the spectator. Although the name of the style comes from the family name of José Benito Churriguera, an architect, the Churriguera family members are not the most representative masters of the style. The Transparente (completed 1732), designed by Narciso Tomé for the cathedral in Toledo, is among the masterpieces of Churrigueresque. Tomé created an arrangement in which the Holy Sacrament could be placed within a transparent vessel that was visible from both the high altar and the ambulatory, seen both by the congregation and the pilgrim. Sculpted clouds, gilded rays, a massing of carved angels, and architecturally directed natural light combine to produce a mystical and spiritual effect. In the sacristy of the Cartuja of Granada (1727-64), Luis de Arévalo and Francisco Manuel Vásquez created an interior that, if not as delicate or as ingenious as that designed by Tomé, is as typically Churrigueresque. The architects drew from other sources for the thick moldings, undulating lines, and repetition of pattern. In Spanish America tendencies from both the native art of the Americas and the ever-present Mudéjar (Moorish art) have been incorporated, further enriching the style, and the Churrigueresque column, which was shaped like an inverted cone, became the most common motif. The Mexico cathedral (1718), Santa Prisca at Taxco (1758), and San Martín at San Luis Potosí (1764) are excellent examples of Churrigueresque in Mexico.
A term applied to both a liturgical vessel used for holding the consecrated Host and an altar canopy supported on columns, popular particularly in Italy in the Romanesque and Gothic periods. In the latter sense the word is not easily distinguished from baldacchino.
Designations such as Cinquecento (1500s, High Renaissance), Quattrocento (1400s, Early Renaissance) and the earlier Trecento (1300s, the interval falling between the Gothic and Renaissance periods) are useful in suggesting the changing intellectual and cultural outlooks of late- and post-medieval Italy. The Cinquecento delimits a period of intense and violent changes in the whole fabric of Italian culture. It refers to the century of the Protestant Reformation, of Spanish and Habsburg political domination, and of the uneasy transition to Mannerism in the visual arts.
Ciompi was the name given to the most numerous class of day-labourers (dismissible without notice) in 14th century Florence's chief industry: those employed in the manufacture of woollen cloth as weavers, beaters, combers, etc. They were forbidden to form a trade association, as also were those in the associated, but self-employed, craft of dyeing. Without being members of a guild, none could seek redress save from the Arte della Lana, the manufacturers' corporation which employed them, or achieve political representation.
ciompi, revolt of the
Insurrection of the lower classes of Florence in 1378 that briefly brought to power one of the most democratic governments in Florentine history. The ciompi ("wool carders") were the most radical of the groups that revolted, and they were defeated by the more conservative elements in Florentine society. A struggle between factions within the major ruling guilds triggered the uprising. Members of the lower classes, called upon to take part in the revolt in late June, continued to agitate on their own during the month of July. They presented a series of petitions to the Signoria (executive council of Florence) demanding a more equitable fiscal policy and the right to establish guilds for those groups not already organized. Then, on July 22, the lower classes forcibly took over the government, placing one of their members, the wool carder Michele di Lando, in the important executive office of gonfaloniere of justice. The new government, controlled by the minor guilds, was novel in that for the first time it represented all the classes of society, including the ciompi, who were raised to the status of a guild. But the ciompi were soon disillusioned. Their economic condition worsened, and the new government failed to implement all their demands. Conflicting interests of the minor guilds and the ciompi became evident. On August 31 a large group of the ciompi that had gathered in the Piazza della Signoria was easily routed by the combined forces of the major and minor guilds. In reaction to this revolutionary episode, the ciompi guild was abolished, and within four years the dominance of the major guilds was restored.
cithara (Gk.)
An ancient musical instrument, resembling a lyre, on which strings were plucked. They were often used to accompany a singer or someone reciting poetry.
clair-obscur (Fr. "light-dark")
woodcut technique based on the reproduction of light and dark in drawings, where the effect depends on using the base of the drawing in the design of the image. In clair-obscur prints the light areas are carved out of the printing plate, in order to allow the white of the paper to take effect. In coloured prints the coloured areas are printed with clay plates, the black contours usually with a special line plate, except in cases where - as in Italy these were dispensed with.
Relating to the culture of ancient Greece and Rome (classical Antiquity). The classical world played a profoundly important role in the Renaissance, with Italian scholars, writers, and artists seeing their own period as the rebirth (the "renaissance") of classical values after the Middle Ages. The classical world was considered the golden age for the arts, literature, philosophy, and politics. Concepts of the classical, however, changed greatly from one period to the next. Roman literature provided the starting point in the 14th century, scholars patiently finding, editing and translating a wide range of texts. In the 15th century Greek literature, philosophy and art - together with the close study of the remains of Roman buildings and sculptures-expanded the concept of the classical and ensured it remained a vital source of ideas and inspiration.
A row of windows in the upper part of the wall of a basilicas nave (main aisle).
cloisonné (French: partitioned)
A technique dating from the 6th century AD, in which the various colours are separated by metal wire or strips soldered to the plaque.
cloth of honour
a cloth of valuable material held up behind a distinguished person to set them apart visually from others (a custom deriving from classical antiquity).
An ornamental system of deep panels recessed into a vault, arch or ceiling. Coffered ceilings, occasionally made of wood, were frequently used in Renaissance palaces.
cognoscenti, sing. cognoscente (It. "those who know")
Connoisseurs of art, literature or music; those with refined tastes.
Row of columns with a straight entablature and no arches.
Compagnia de San Luca (Guild of St. Luke)
The painters' guild in Florence (named after St. Luke because he was believed to have painted a portrait of the Virgin Mary).
complementary colours
Pairs of colours that have the maximum contrast and so, when set side by side, intensify one another. Green and red, blue and orange, and yellow and violet are complementary colours.
compline (Lat. [hora] completa, "completed [hour]")
The last prayers of the day; the church service at which these prayers are said.
concetto, pl. concetti (It. "concept")
In Renaissance art theory, the intellectual or narrative program behind a work; a work's underlying theme. Concetti were often taken from the literature and mythology of Ancient Greece and Rome, as well as from the Bible.
condottiere, pl. condottieri (It. "leader")
Leader of a band of mercenaries engaged to fight in numerous wars among the Italian states from the mid-14th to the 16th century. The name was derived from the condotta, or "contract," by which the condottieri put themselves in the service of a city or of a lord. The first mercenary armies in Italy (often called free companies) were made up of foreigners. The earliest (1303) was composed of Catalans who had fought in the dynastic wars of the south. In the mid-14th century the Grand Company, composed mainly of Germans and Hungarians, terrorized the country, devastating Romagna, Umbria, and Tuscany. It was one of the first to have a formal organization and a strict code of discipline, developed by the Provençal adventurer Montréal d' Albarno. The Englishman Sir John Hawkwood, one of the most famous of the non-Italian condottieri, came to Italy in the 1360s during a lull in the Hundred Years' War and for the next 30 years led the White Company in the confused wars of northern Italy. By the end of the 14th century, Italians began to raise mercenary armies, and soon condottieri were conquering principalities for themselves. The organization of the companies was perfected in the early 15th century by Muzio Attendolo Sforza, in the service of Naples, and his rival Braccio da Montone, in the service of Perugia. Muzio's son, Francesco Sforza, who won control of Milan in 1450, was one of the most successful of all the condottieri. Less fortunate was another great condottiere, Carmagnola, who first served one of the viscounts of Milan and then conducted the wars of Venice against his former masters but at last awoke the suspicion of the Venetian oligarchy and was put to death before the palace of St. Mark (1432). Toward the end of the 15th century, when the large cities had gradually swallowed up the small states and Italy itself was drawn into the general current of European politics and became the battlefield of powerful armies--French, Spanish, and German--the condottieri, who proved unequal to the gendarmery of France and the improved Italian troops, disappeared. The soldiers who fought under the condottieri were almost entirely heavy-armoured cavalry and were noted for their rapacious and disorderly behaviour. With no goal beyond personal gain, the armies of the condottieri often changed sides, and their battles often resulted in little bloodshed.
Confraternities, often called compagnie or, in Venice, scuole, were religious associations of lay persons devoted to specific pious practices or works of charity, often under the direction of, or with the spiritual assistance of, clergy. Guilds 'qua' religious associations had the character of confraternities. Several major historic waves of foundations can be distinguished. (1) Compagnie dei disciplinati or dei laudesi, i.e. flagellant confraternities, which were conformist offshoots of the partly heterodox flagellant movement of 1260. The Venetian scuole grandi were especially prestigious examples. By the 16th century, although flagellant practices were retained in some cases, these functioned more as mutual aid societies and as administrators of charitable funds. (2) Confraternite del Rosario, which spread in the 15th century, being primarily promoted by the Dominicans. (3) A group of confraternities which spread from the mid-15th century, commonly called either Compagnia di S. Girolamo or Compagnia del Divino Amore ('Company of Divine Love'; perhaps the first example was the Florentine Buonuomini di S. Martino), associated with certain specialized charitable enterprises, in the first place relief of the poveri vergognosi or 'shamefaced poor', i.e. respectable people who had to be aided discreetly. In the 16th century they also promoted hospitals of the incurabili, primarily for syphilitics, convents of convertite, i.e. reformed prostitutes, and refuges for maidens. To this movement belonged the famous Roman Company or Oratory of Divine Love, founded c. 1514 in S. Dorotea in Trastevere. This recruited some leading churchmen and papal officials (as a confraternity it was unusual in its heavy clerical membership), but many ascriptions of leading church reformers to it are without sound foundation and there is no basis for its reputation as a seminal body in the Catholic reform movement. The new congregation of the Clerks Regular called Theatines was, however, an offshoot and these took the lead in propagating Compagnie del Divino Amore in Italy. Other types of confraternity were those of the buona morte, which accompanied condemned prisoners, and those which aided imprisoned debtors, e.g. the Florentine Neri. Confraternities commonly had chapels in parish churches or in the churches of religious orders, but sometimes had their own premises, e.g. the splendid ones of the Venetian scuole grandi; in Florence, the hall of Orsanmichele housed a devotional and almsgiving confraternity as well as being a grain dispensary. Great confraternities might exercise public functions: certain Florentine ones concerned with welfare became effectively state magistracies, while the Venetian government, in addition to giving them a ceremonial role, relied upon the scuole grandi to distribute funds. Confraternities, notwithstanding their location, tended to be manifestations of lay piety independent of ecclesiastical institutions, or at least outside the framework of the parish and the diocese.
A close community of monasteries within the same monastic order.
Consiglio dei Dieci (Ital. "Council of Ten")
established in 1310, the highest political decision-making body in Venice. Its members were elected for a fixed term by the Senate, the Venetian parliament of noblemen. While the Doge ranked above the Council, he had to use considerable personal power if he wanted to win against them.
contour (Fr. contour, "outline")
a line around a shape in a work of art, its nature depending on the artist's concept and intention. In medieval painting, contours were initially regular, flat outlines; in the course of the 14th century they acquired more sense of spatial effect, and appear to be alternately more and less emphatic. Later, the effect of contour in painting and graphic art became particularly important to artistic movements in which line and draughtsmanship was a prominent factor.
contrapposto (It. "placed opposite")
An asymmetrical pose in which the one part of the body is counterbalanced by another about the body's central axis. Ancient Greek sculptors developed contrapposto by creating figures who stand with their weight on one leg, the movement of the hips to one side being balanced by a counter movement of the torso. Contrapposto was revived during the Renaissance and frequently used by Mannerist artist, who developed a greater range of contrapposto poses.
conventicle (Lat. conventiculurn, "meeting place")
A religious meeting or society.
Copperplate engraving (late Lat. cuprum; Lat. aes cyprium, "ore from the island of Cyprus")
A method of printing using a copper plate into which a design has been cut by a sharp instrument such as a burin; an engraving produced in this way. Invented in south west Germany during the 1430s, the process is the second oldest graphic art after woodcut. In German art it was developed in particular by Schongauer and Dürer, and in Italian art by Pollaiuolo and Mantegna.
In architecture, a bracket of stone, brick or wood that projects from a wall to support an arch, large cornice or other feature. They are often ornamented.
Cosmati work
A type of coloured decorative inlay work of stone and glass that flourished mainly in Rome between c. 1100 and 1300. It is characterized by the use of small pieces of coloured stone and glass in combination with strips of white marble to produce geometrical designs. The term derives from two craftsmen called Cosmas, whose names are inscribed on several works, but there were several families of 'Cosmati' workers and many individual craftsmen. Cosmati work was applied to church furnishings such as tombs and pulpits and was also used for architectural decoration. The style spread as far as England, for example in the tomb of Henry III in Westminster Abbey (c. 1280), executed by imported Italian craftsmen.
Term in ecclesiastical history referring to the reform of the entire Church which was widely believed to be necessary as early as the late Middle Ages. Reform programs, such as those passed by the Councils of Constance (1414-1418) and Basle (1431-1437 and 1448) or the 5th Lateran Council (1512-1517), did not achieve any lasting results. Not until the Protestant Reformation were the Pope and Roman Curia forced to take specific action against abuse of position, declining moral standards, the selling of indulgences and excesses in the worship of saints and relics. With the Laetere Jerusalem (1544) bull. Pope Paul III (1534-1549) was responsible for the convocation of the Council of Trent which, in three separate sessions between 15445 and 1563, started the process of inner reform in the Church.
The pattern of fine cracks in paint, due to the paint shrinking and becoming brittle as it ages.
The crook-shaped staff carried by a bishop. The crook is intended to resemble a shepherd's crook, i.e. it symbolizes the shepherd (the bishop) looking after his flock.
An important method of capital punishment, particularly among the Persians, Seleucids, Jews, Carthaginians, and Romans from about the 6th century BC to the 4th century AD. Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor, abolished it in the Roman Empire in AD 337, out of veneration for Jesus Christ, the most famous victim of crucifixion. There were various methods of performing the execution. Usually, the condemned man, after being whipped, or "scourged," dragged the crossbeam of his cross to the place of punishment, where the upright shaft was already fixed in the ground. Stripped of his clothing either then or earlier at his scourging, he was bound fast with outstretched arms to the crossbeam or nailed firmly to it through the wrists. The crossbeam was then raised high against the upright shaft and made fast to it about 9 to 12 feet (approximately 3 metres) from the ground. Next, the feet were tightly bound or nailed to the upright shaft. A ledge inserted about halfway up the upright shaft gave some support to the body; evidence for a similar ledge for the feet is rare and late. Over the criminal's head was placed a notice stating his name and his crime. Death, apparently caused by exhaustion or by heart failure, could be hastened by shattering the legs (crurifragium) with an iron club, so that shock and asphyxiation soon ended his life.
A wind instrument popular throughout Europe in 16th and 17th centuries. An ancestor of the oboe, the crumhorn was a double-reed instrument that produced a soft, reedy sound.
cupola (Lat. cupula, "small vat")
In architecture, a small dome, usually one set on a much larger dome or on a roof; a semi-circular vault.
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