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Abacus

The upper part of a capital, with squared parallellepipedon-shaped base.

Acanthus

An herbaceous plant with large swollen often used as a decorative element in on a tombstone, in Corinthian and composite capitals, sculptures and mosaics.

Acroterium

A decorative element in terracotta or marble used at the apex of the pediment in Greek, Etruscan and Roman temples with apoplectic effigies (that ward off evil). In more general terms, sculptural decorations on the corners of pediments.

Adytum

The area at the back of a temple's cella* or a separate room behind it that has the statue of the divinity of the particular cult to whom the temple is dedicated.

Aedicule

Literally a “little building”, a framing device for a tabernacle or niche or it could be a small temple any of which would usually house a statue or painting.

Agorà

A square in the centre of a Greek city, a point at which the city's major roads meet, a place where business is conducted, markets held, and where people meet up or assemble.
It is usually rectangular in shape, with porticoes* and the city's most important and symbolic buildings are located in the surrounding area. The equivalent of a Roman forum

Altar

In pagan cults, altars might be made of wood or a stone slab and bore the offerings made to the Gods. In Roman times they were often built in a parallelepipedon shape in either stone or brick and their sides were embellished with decorative motifs.

Ambulatory

A corridor or covered portico used as a passageway between non-communicating rooms in the building.

Anta

The end of a wall, usually a decorated pilaster* although the capital and base often do not comply with a particular architectural cannon.

Antefix

An ornamental element in terracotta or stone on the edge of Roman (curved) tiles or those that protrude beyond the roof in Greek, Etruscan, Italic and Roman buildings.

Apse

A covered semi-circular or polygonal architectural structure that juts out from the perimeter wall of a building.

Ara (Altar)

A pagan altar often where sacrifices to the Gods took place, but also monumental. Built in various shapes and materials.

Arcade

An arched structure, usually supported by pilasters* or sections of wall, also a structure comprising a series of arches.

Arch

A curved architectural structure supported on either side by a pilaster*, column or pier.

Architrave

A horizontal architectural element that rests on columns or pilasters*. It forms the lower part of the entablature* found in the classic orders.

Archivault

The cornice or fascia, either plain or decorated, that runs around the outline of an arch as far as the impost and has a purely decorative function.

Attic

The storey above the main entablature of a classical façade sometimes used to screen the slope of the roof.
In triumphal arches it is the straight section above the cornice of the principal order, often decorated with bas-reliefs or inscriptions. In buildings the attic is the highest floor, situated above the ceiling on the top floor.

Axonometric projection

A graphic representation of an architectural structure that is drawn with its horizontal and vertical axes to scale but with its curved lines and diagonals distorted which draws attention to the structure's height, width and depth.

Barrel-vault

The curved covering of a room or a bay – a semi-cylindrical structure whose weight is supported by two parallel walls.

Bas relief

Shallow carving resulting in raised figures and landscapes.

Base

The architectural element on which the shaft of a column rests.

Basement

The lowest part of a building or architectural structure that has a supporting function.

Basilica

A large rectangular, roofed Roman building, in which the space was divided up by rows of columns – used for transacting business or dealing with legal matters. The church adopted the same basic design for its first churches.

Baths

The buildings used to house public baths in Greece, but which became particularly widespread in Ancient Rome, where they often assumed monumental proportions.

Bifora

A double arched window divided by a small pilaster or column that acts as a support. Occasionally framed by a third arch.

Bust

The sculpted portrait of a person, usually only the head and shoulders.

Capital

The architectural element that is part of a column that links the shaft to the structure above it , either an architrave* or arch. It is usually made of two parts that serve as connecting / linking elements: the lower, often decorated, is called echinus* whilst the upper is usually more simple, called abacus*.
There are many kinds of capital:
- Doric: has a flat abacus that rests on a quarter-round echinus.
- Tuscan: with semi-circular echinus and abacus with upper frame
- Ionic: the echinus is usually decorated with ovoli* (kyma ionico), large lateral volutes (swirls/coils) and a relatively shallow abacus.
- Corinthian similar in shape to a cone, decorated with two rows or ranks of Acanthus
leaves and linked to the abacus by decorative spirals on the corners
- Composite: typical of Roman architecture, it combines the abacus of a Corinthian capital with
the echinus with ovoli (kyma ionico) of an Ionic capital. It first appeared during the
Augustan era and was in common use by the Flavian era.
- Figured (or historiated): decorated with human or animal figures. Used in Egypt, it first appeared
in Rome during the Hellenistic age. Also popular during the Middle Ages.

Caryatid

From the Greek karat's(a young girl from Karuai (Caryae), an architectural element used by the Greeks instead of columns to support the entablature. Today the word is more commonly used to describe a structure shaped like a woman used instead of columns, pilasters or corbels to support a cornice, entablature, a loggia or a balcony.

Cella

The internal quadrangle of a pagan temple – the sanctuary in which the statue of the divinity was held.

Chlamys

A short, lightweight Greek cloak fastened with a buckle on the chest or right shoulder.

Chromatics

The study of colours (i.e. the chromatic scale).

Chryselephantine

From the Greek krusos (gold) and elefantinos (ivory). A statue made with a wooden framework in which the flesh was overlaid in ivory and the drapery in gold.

Ciborium

A free-standing canopy or covering supported by columns that covers the altar in Christian basilicas.

Cintre

Structure provisoire en bois constituée par des poutres reliées entre elles servant à armer et à soutenir des arcs et des voûtes pendant la construction.

Clipeus

A type of circular shield used by Romans to defend themselves.
- votive clipeus: a circular slab, that may or may not have been decorated, made of marble or metal that was hung in temples and public buildings.
- clipeus portrait: sometimes just the head or bust of a person.

Column

A load bearing structure usually comprising a base, shaft and capital. It has a convex curve or bulge located approximately a third of the way up called an entasis and a reduction in diameter towards the top that makes it appear taller and straighter than it is.
A column is:
- Cabled: if the fluting is further embellished by a stick-like moulding for around a third of its
height
- Fluted: if the shaft is carved with vertical grooves

Copy

A reproduction of an original piece of work not executed by the artist himself. When the original artist reproduces his own work, it is called a replica.

Corbel (or console)

A piece of stone jutting out of a wall that supports a heavy weight (similar to a bracket), such as a beam, cornice, roof etc. In a corbelled cornice the cornice is supported by a series of corbels

Corinthian

One of the Classic orders characterized by a fluted column with base and capital decorated with Acanthus leaves and with a continuous frieze

Cornice

In classical architecture, the protruding element (moulding) above the frieze, effectively the upper section of the entablature More generally, the element that frames a painting, a fresco (in which case it is painted) or a relief

Crepidoma

The platform of three of more levels, that usually decrease in size to form steps, on which a Greek temple is built. The topmost level which supports the colonnade is called a stylobate, the lower two are known as stereobates.

Cross plan / design

The cross plan of a place of worship is described as:
Greek: when the building has four equal arms.
Latin: when a building has one, three or five longitudinal naves intersected by one or more transversal naves (transepts).

Cross vault (or groin vault)

A vault created by the intersection at right angles of two barrel vaults

Cryptoportico

A semi-subterranean portico with vaulted roof and windows, used as a passageway.

Cyma–or sima

A slightly rounded, convex moulding usually used as coping at the top of a building, either plain or decorated.

Diptera

A Greek temple surrounded by two lines of columns on all sides.

Doric

The first classical order, characterized by tapering columns (slightly narrower at the top than the bottom) that were fluted, and slightly swollen about a third of the way up – entasis* - with no base and a capital comprising echinus* and abacus that were not decorated. Above, a plain, smooth architrave* and a frieze, with alternating metopes and triglyphs .

Eaves

The overhanging part of the roof that projects beyond the wall protecting it from the rain.

Echinus

Architectural element beneath the abacus. In a Doric capital it is convex and has no decorative motifs, whilst in an Ionic capital it is decorated with ovoli* (ionic kyma)

Elevation

The height of a building from the foundations to the roof. Also used to describe the drawing / plan that shows the whole, or just a part of the structure.

Encaustic

A painting technique used by the Greeks and Romans who used colours diluted with wax, resin or rubber that could only be used when melted and mixed. The hot “paint” was applied by spatula to dry, well sanded plaster.

Entablature

The horizontal structure of a temple comprising architrave, frieze and cornice. Usually however, it refers to the ensemble of horizontal elements supported by columns, pilasters and piers.

Entasis

The swollen part of the shaft of a column situated approximately a third of the way up, used to counteract the optical illusion that the central part of a column is narrower than its top or bottom when seen from a distance.

Extrados

The upper, curved surface of an arch, dome or vault.

Façade

The front, most important part of a building where the main entrance is located.

Fictilis

Made of clay.

Fluting – or channelling

The motif consisting of a series of vertical channels used to embellish such architectural elements as a column* or triglyph*.

Fornix

The arched opening in a structure such as a city gate, triumphal arch or a bridge.

Forum

The main square in a Roman city, comparable to the Greek agorà. Rectangular in shape, with porticoes, surrounded by basilicas, temples and monuments, it was the centre of city life, a place to do business, where markets were held and justice administered.

Fountain

A construction that receives water from a source (from the Latin fons) and then distributes it. Made in various shapes, sizes and materials and used as an additional decorative element for gardens and public spaces to render them more pleasurable and better appreciated.

Frieze

The band between the architrave* and cornice in a classic trabeation.
In the Doric order it features a series of metopes* and triglyphs* , but in later Roman and Renaissance times, it became a continuous fascia /band decorated in relief. It may however also be completely plain.

Fusion

The process of melting or liquefying metal so that it can be used to cast sculptures in bronze or other metals.

Geison

Synonym for cornice* in a classic entablature

Glaze

A thin, smooth layer of colour applied to a painting, or part of one, that renders the different tones of colour brighter and more transparent.

High Relief

A sculptural relief where the figures or motifs stand out against the background to at least half their depth.

Himation

A long, heavy cloak that wrapped around the body, worn by men and women over a chiton*

Hypogaeum

An underground room, mostly used as a burial chamber.

Iconography

From the Greek iconos, pictures or representations or symbols associated with a person or subject.

In-the-round or free-standing

A sculpture that is isolated in space, visible from all sides.

Inter-column

The space between two columns

Intradox

The curved inner surface of an arch or vault.

Ionic

One of the classic architectural orders, characterized by a slender, tapering shaft (narrowing towards the top) with two lateral volutes* on the base and capital, entablature* with banded architrave* and in time, either a plain frieze, or one decorated with figures in relief.

Jamb

One of the pair of vertical posts or pieces that together provide the lateral support for the architrave*

Keystone

The piece at the top of a vault or arch that marks its apex and locks the other pieces into position.

Kora

Typical ancient Greek statue of a standing woman, dressed in an Ionic-style peplos*.

Lacunar

A decorative element with squared-off overhangs made in wood or plaster used to embellish the space within the area created where beams, used to support the roof, cross. Used by both the Greeks and the Romans, it was also very popular during the Renaissance. Also a feature in a panelled or coffered ceiling which is embellished with a grid of recessed squares between the corbels.

Lesene

A flat semi-column or pilaster built against a wall, without a base or capital. Part of an architectural order.

Loggia

An open-sided architectural structure – an arcade with columns or pilasters that may be free-standing or part of a building

Lunette

The part top part of a wall at the intersection between the wall and a vault, often decorated with paintings, mosaics and reliefs

Matroneum

Located, in paleo-Christian and Romanesque churches built on a basilica-design, above the lateral naves overlooking the central nave, whilst buildings designed to a central plan overlooked the central dome area.

Monument

An architectural structure or a sculpture erected to celebrate an event or person.

Mould

The impression obtained by shaping a soft substance such as wax, fat or clay around the item to be copied. Once hard, it can then be removed and used to mould a copy

Moulding

A shaped finishing strip, either plain or decorated used to embellish an architectural element.

Museum

From the Greek word mouseum meaning shrine of the muses, a place in which various literary, artistic and scientific activities were carried out and which was home to art collections or other collections considered to have historic or scientific value.

Naos

The elongated, rectangular inner sanctuary (cf Roman cella) of a Greek temple that had no windows, so the only light source was the door facing east, it was home to the divinity concerned although ordinary worshippers were not usually allowed to enter.

Nave

The central, lengthwise space between two rows of columns or pilasters.

Niche

A recess of greater or lesser depth in a wall that might be semi-circular, rectangular or polygonal in shape. Usually for holding a statue or urn.

Nymphaeum

In ancient Greece, the word described a sanctuary dedicated to the nymphs but later used to describe an elliptical (oval) or semi-circular shaped building that contained fountains with architectural detailing, apses or even monumental fountains.

Oculus

An eye-like or circular opening or window sometimes included for purely decorative reasons.

Order

An architectural complex or style that conforms to rules that govern the shape and proportions of a building and/or structural elements.


Pagan Altar

An altar often where sacrifices to the Gods took place, but also monumental. Built in various shapes and materials.

Pediment

The triangular structure in a classic temple situated between the entablature and the roof overhang, often decorated with statues and reliefs. It also appears above doors, windows, niches and aediculae.

Peplos

A tubular piece of cloth, worn by Greek women folded in such a way that part fell from the waist to the ankles whilst the top of it fell in folds from the shoulders to the waist, held by a buckle above the right arm.

Peripter

A Greek temple surrounded by columns on all sides.

Péristasis

Portique, colonnade entourant le naos du temple.

Pilaster

An architectural structure supported by a quadratic, polygonal or composite base, used to support architraves*, arches* and vaults.

Plan

The architectural design, in horizontal section, of a building or complex or part of one. Also called icnography.

Planimetry

A type of map or diagram showing the geometry and measurements of the horizontal view of one of more buildings or of an urban complex.

Plastering

A paste made of cement, lime or plaster mixed with salt and water, used to render walls

Podium

An elevated platform serving as the foundation for Roman, Etruscan and Italic temples.

Portal

A large open, usually exterior and ground level gallery, it may provide shelter, but may be purely decorative.

Pronaos

The room in front of the naos* or cella* surrounded by a portico.

Propylaeum - or propylon

The monumental entrance to sanctuaries, buildings or squares.

Protome

The head or torso of a human, animal or monster used as a decorative element on pediments*, cornices* and antefixes*.

Relief

A sculptural element carved on a surface so as to stand out from its background, Depending on how far it projects, it can be further defined as a high or low relief.

Rib (or ridge)

The architectural element used to sub-divide the surface area of a cross (or groin) vault or dome that transferred the weight of the roof to the columns via the capitals.

Ribbing

Term used to describe the whole network of ribs inherent in a vaulted ceiling or roof.

Sacellum

An enclosed, roofless space containing an altar consecrated to a divinity.( from the Latin diminutive of sacrum, meaning a sacred space).

Sesto

The rounded internal curve of an arch or vault.

Shaft

The main body of a column that stands on a base and bears the capital.

Socle

A plain square block (higher than a plinth) that serves as a pedestal* for a pilaster or sculpture, as opposed to a plinth that supports a column.

Soffit

One of the four concave segments in a cross vault.

Span (or bay)

The space between four pilasters that support a cross vault or the space between two supporting structures.

Stele

A rectangular shaped upright stone in stone or marble, placed in the ground or on a base with an inscribed, engraved or sculptured surface used as a commemorative, votive or memorial tablet.

Stratigraphy

The study of rock layers and layering, especially the progressive nature of its formation which reveals the material deposited in successive geological eras, making it possible to date material uncovered during excavations and to identify the groups of materials that pertain to each layer.

Stucco

A combination of various materials such as lime, marble dust, gesso, sand and casein (the white, tasteless, odourless protein precipitated from milk by rennin), mixed together in varying proportions depending whether it was being used for plugging and filling holes, finishing buildings, the creation of decorative elements for walls, cornices and ceilings. It was also used to add depth to a painting

Stylobate

The foundation for the colonnade and walls of a cella* inside an ancient temple.

Tambour – or drum

A cylindrical block laid one above the other to form a column.

Telamon

One of the Argonauts and the father of Ajax, the word was also used to describe the figure of a man used as a supporting pillar for entablatures* loggias and balconies.

Temenos

Used originally to indicate a piece of land belonging to a king or God passed down through the generations, but was later applied to a sanctuary or a holy precinct in which an altar and or temple were located, perhaps other buildings too.

Torus

The moulding, semi-circular in shape, at the base of an Ionic and Corinthian column.

Tripod

A three-legged support

Truss (or tie beam)

A wooden beam structure comprising one or more triangular sections, used to support a sloping roof. In its simplest form, there is one lower beam (chord), two oblique beams (brace) plus another positioned vertically (king post)

Tuscan

A Roman architectural order of Etruscan origin characterized by a smooth column with no swelling (entasis*), resting on a plinth* with a double spaced Torus (a semi-circular moulding) and a capital similar to a that of the Doric order but with a more swollen and shorter echinus*

Tympanum

The triangular area contained within the pediment, often embellished with frescoes or sculptures.

Vault

An arched structure that covers a space or bay.
Depending on its form, a vault is categorized as either simple or composite
- Simple vaults
barrel or tunnel: a semi-cylindrical structure resting on two parallel walls
sail or dome: a hemispherical skullcap-like structure set over a polygonal space.
- Composite vaults
cross or groin: formed by the intersection of two barrel vaults
cloister or domical: dome-like, formed by curved sections used to cover a polygonal shaped areas.
A schifo: a cloister vault intersected by a plane parallel to that on which it rests.
umbrella: set across a polygonal area, it comprises as many segments (groins) as the sides that it intersects.

Volute

A spiral or scroll-like decorative element typical of an Ionic and Composite capital.

Volutes

A decorative motif featuring twisted plant stems

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