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high relief

A sculpture made with a strong relief, in such a way that certain parts are completely detached from the background. The opposite of this is a bas-relief.


A sacred image generally painted on a wooden board, often with a golden coloured background, which is typical of Byzantine art. From 730 to 843 the destruction of these images was called iconoclasm. The iconographer is the painter; iconography is the science that studies this type of art, the meanings of which are meant to be symbolic-religious.


An architectonical dividing structure which separates the presbytery from the naves in western Christian churches.  There are normally columns which hold up an architrave. Sacred images (icons) are displayed there.


A stone positioned in the middle of the cross vault, in the intersection of the ribs.


On the floor of many medieval cathedrals there is the drawing of a labyrinth, the route of which was a symbol of earthly life or the pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Loggia eng.

An open architectonic structure in arcades resting on columns or pillars, which may be freestanding or part of a building.


A portion of a wall consisting of the intersection of a vault with the level of the wall itself, often decorated with paintings, mosaics and reliefs. It is also the space between the architrave of a door and the overlying arch, as well as the semi-circular panel which crowns an altar-piece.

Matroneo eng.A place reserved for women. In early-Christian and Romanesque churches with a basilican layout, it is situated on the side naves and overlooks the central one.  In buildings with a central layout it overlooks the area of the dome.
MedallionA sculpted or painted decorative motif, with or without representations.

A life form present in almost all religious traditions which consists of detachment from the world and the experience of a hermetic and / or community solitude – dedicated to the things of the spirit, to work and to the welcoming of wayfarers and pilgrims. 

Mosaic eng.

A figurative technique which consists of attaching small tiles or fragments of stone, marble or vitreous glass to a surface in such a way as to obtain various polychrome decorations by following a drawing. Given their elevated production costs, mosaics are as splendid as the abundance of financial resources available to have them made. 

Narthex or atrium

A porticoed atrium in front of the entrance to a church were the catechumens and penitents would stay in ancient Christian liturgy. It may be divided into the endo-narthex, the space inside the church or the exo-narthex, the space of the so-called portico in front of the entrance door. The Cathedral of Monreale shows an example of the second case.


In basilicas it is the central or lateral longitudinal space between the rows of columns or pilasters and the perimeter wall.  The central nave, which is generally larger, is also called the “nave” and the side naves “little naves”. The use of several side naves, as is the case in the church of St. John in Lateran or St. Peter’s in the Vatican City allowed for a higher number of the faithful to be called to a special place of worship for God’s People.


A more or less deep cavity open in the middle of a wall which most commonly contains a statue: it may be semi-circular, rectangular or polygonal in shape, generally with a basin ending. They were originally painted in very bright colours.


A Gothic arch, characterised by Gothic architecture. The term originally indicated the ribs of the Gothic vault.


A semi-pilaster or semi-column against a statue complete with a base and a capital, which is sometimes smooth and sometimes ornate, with a decorative function. (See pilaster strip).

Pilaster or columnAn architectonical element with a circular, quadrangular, polygonal, cruciform or clustered section, which acts as a support for arches, vaults or architraves.
Pilaster strip

A vertical support element, mostly shaped like a pilaster, with a base, a shaft and a capital, partially protruding and partially set into a wall: it may be used as a reinforcement to a wall or as a support element for an arch, a column, a beam or a window.


An architectonical element shaped like a small tower with a cusp (a pyramidal or conical spire), positioned at the top of a building or a buttress.

Plan, cross

The cross plan of a building of worship is defined:
as a Greek cross, when the building has four wings of the same dimensions;
as a Latin cross when in a building one, three or five longitudinal naves are cut by one or more transversal naves (transept);
crux immissa, when the building has a T shape as the transept is at the end of the longitudinal nave.pluteus
A parallelepiped shaped balustrade made of wood, metal, stone or marble, in relief, inlay or mosaic, with symbolic motifs, which separates the presbytery in early-Christian and medieval churches.


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