Key definitions

Canon – A body of artists and works that are of unquestionable importance

Chanonry – area around cathedral where bishops and clergy had their residence

Chapter House – building or room that is part of a cathedral, monastery or collegiate church in which larger meetings are held. When attached to a cathedral, the cathedral chapter meets there. In monasteries, the whole community often met there on a daily basis for readings and to hear the abbot or senior monks talk.

Contrapposto – a pose in which one part of the body is twisted in the opposite direction from that of the other – usually with the hips and legs in one way and the chest and shoulders twisted on the opposite axis. (The Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists, 5th Edition)

Counter-reformation – response to the Protestant Reformation. A Catholic revival beginning with the Council of Trent (1545–1563) and ending at the close of the Thirty Years’ War (1648)

Coulisse – Compositional framing device used by landscape artists such as Claude. Side pieces at either side of a stage.

Drapery – general word referring to cloths or textiles (Old French draperie, from Late Latin drappus)

Engraving – Covers all methods of multiplying prints but normally refers to Intaglio. On metal, normally copper. Plate is engraved and then dabbed with ink which is subsequently rubbed off again leaving ink in the furrows. Damp paper is laid on the plate and both are rolled through a press. (The Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists, 5th Edition)

Etching – The metal plate is covered with a resinous ground which is then etched on using a needle exposing the copper. The plate is put in an acid bath which eats away only at the exposed parts. (The Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists, 5th Edition)

Fresco – a wall painting on plaster in a medium like watercolour. Wall is plastered and then a coat of arricciato is applied. The composition is then traced onto the wall and the area of one days works is covered in a layer of plaster called intonaco. The cartoon is redrawn on this and the damp plaster is painted with pigments mixed with water or lime-water. The colours dry much lighter. As the plaster is still damp, the pigment becomes integrated into the wall itself so scaling does not occur. At the end of the day, the unpainted intonaco is cut away. A fresco can be examined for the joins between plaster to find out how many days is took to paint. (The Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists, 5th Edition)

Humanism – system of education and mode of inquiry that developed in northern Italy during the 13th and 14th centuries and later spread through continental Europe and England. Humanistic themes and techniques were woven deeply into the development of Italian Renaissance art; conversely, the general theme of “art” was prominent in humanistic discourse.

Illumination – handwritten book that has been decorated with gold or silver, brilliant colours, or elaborate designs or miniature pictures.

Ignudi – “The Ignudi” is the phrase coined by Michelangelo to describe the twenty seated male nudes he incorporated into the Sistine Chapel ceiling frescoes. Each represents the male human figure at its most idealized, in a sort of blending of ancient Classicism and modern naked super heroes (a topic about which Michelangelo could not have known), and none had anything at all to do with Bible stories. In an effort to be crystal clear, then: Michelangelo did not make up the word, he gave it a new art-historical context when he collectively named his 20 Sistine Chapel nudes “The Ignudi.” (

Lapis Lazuli – semiprecious stone valued for its deep blue colour. The source of the pigment ultramarine, it is not a mineral but a rock coloured by lazurite. Ore containing the colour was ground, and the powdered lapis lazuli was separated from the other mineral matter.

Nave – largest area in cathedral for public worship gatherings

Pendants – two or more aesthetic objects (usually art pieces such as paintings or sculptures) made to be perceived as a set.

Poesie –  Titian coined the phrase for his elegiac compositions, because he regarded them as the visual equivalents of poetry.

Quire – The Quire (as distinct from the Choir) is an area of the church often referred to as a “chancel”

Reformation – Protestant Reformation was the schism within Western Christianity. Reformers objected to the doctrines, rituals, leadership, and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, which led to the creation of new national Protestant churches.

(Classical) Sibyl – as on Sistine chapel ceiling = Prophetess

Sotto in su – figures painted from below eg Correggio – Cuppola Parma Cathedral

Tracery – bars, or ribs, used decoratively in windows or other openings; the term also applies to similar forms used in relief as wall decoration (sometimes called blind tracery), and hence, figuratively, to any intricate line pattern. The term is applicable to the system of window decoration developed in Europe during the Gothic period

Vellum – Parchment made from the more delicate skins of calf or kid or from stillborn or newly born calf or lamb. The vellum of most early manuscripts, through the 6th century ad, is of good quality. After this, as demand increased, a great amount of inferior material came on the market, but by the 12th century, when large numbers of manuscripts were being produced in western Europe, a soft, pliant vellum was in vogue.

Woodcut – technique of printing designs from planks of wood incised parallel to the vertical axis of the wood’s grain. It is one of the oldest methods of making prints from a relief surface. In Europe, printing from wood blocks on textiles was known from the early 14th century, but it had little development until paper began to be manufactured in France and Germany at the end of the 14th century. With the 16th century, black-line woodcut reached its greatest perfection with Albrecht Dürer and his followers Lucas Cranach and Hans Holbein.


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