Glossary of painting descriptions (like chiaroscuro) and their meanings

Glossary

alabaster – A fine-grained, slightly translucent stone with a smooth milk-white surface.
 
buon fresco – Sometimes called “true fresco.” A painting technique in which pigment suspended in water is applied to wet plaster. This method is very durable.
 
cartoon – ;A full-size preparatory drawing, sometimes coloured, from which an original work such as a fresco or tapestry is copied.
 
chiaroscuro – The term chiaroscuro refers to the fine art painting modelling effect of using a strong contrast between light and dark to give the illusion of depth or three-dimensionality. This comes from the Italian words meaning light (chiaro) and dark (scuro), a technique which came into wide use in the Baroque Period. Sfumato is the opposite of chiaroscuro.
 
condottiere – Until the mid-fifteenth century, condottieri were mercenary leaders in the employ of Italian city-states.
 
contrapposto – The principle of weight shift in the visual arts. It is commonly used to depict a figure in a relaxed stance, one leg weight-bearing, the other bent, the torso slightly shifted off axis.
 
foreshortening – The term foreshortening refers to the artistic effect of shortening lines in a drawing so as to create an illusion of depth.
 
fresco (pl. frescoes) – Simply defined, painting on plaster. There are two methods, buon fresco and fresco secco.
 
fresco secco – In this technique, pigment is mixed with a binding agent and painted on dry plaster. This method is not as durable as true fresco painting.
humanism – Humanism is the movement of the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries when all branches of learning, literary, scientific and intellectual, were based on the culture and literature of classical Greco-Roman antiquity.
 
grisaille – A style of monochromatic painting in shades of gray, used especially for the representation of relief sculpture.
 
illusionism – A style of painting which makes two-dimensional objects appear to be three-dimensional.
 
Mannerism – A style developed during the Late Renaissance gaining popularity in much of Europe and northern Italy, Mannerism featured the use of distorted figures in complex, impossible poses, and strange artificial colors.
 
perspective – The term perspective refers to the technique of representing the illusion of a three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional surface (a flat piece of paper or canvas).
 
polymath – a person who excels in multiple fields, particularly in both arts and sciences. Another name for “Renaissance Man.”
 
predella – A decorative frieze or border element running along the front of an altarpiece at the foot usually consisting of several pictures.
 
refectory – church dining hall
 
Renaissance Man – A man who has broad intellectual interests and is accomplished in areas of both the arts and the sciences. A “universal man” or polymath.
 
sfumato – The term sfumato was coined by Italian Renaissance artist, Leonardo da Vinci, and refers to a fine art painting technique of blurring or softening of sharp outlines by subtle and gradual blending of one tone into another through the use of thin glazes to give the illusion of depth or three-dimensionality. This stems from the Italian word sfumare meaning to evaporate or to fade out. The Latin origin is fumare, to smoke. The opposite of sfumato is chiaroscuro.
 
terribilita – A term applied typically to the art of Michelangelo describing the heroic and awe-inspiring power and grandeur of his work.
 
trompe l’oeil – A French term meaning “trick the eye.” Also known asillusionism. A painting style designed to give the apprarance of three-dimensionality.
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