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General terms

acquisition method – the means by which the artwork has entered the collection, e.g. gift or purchase

attribute – objects, and sometimes animals or plants, closely associated with a specific person or deity and used in an image to identify that figure

attribution – an assessment of the creator of an artwork. There are also uncertain attributions, e.g. a work is possibly by an artist

commissioned – the artist was requested to produce the artwork for a specific place or purpose

dimensions – size of artwork, given in height, width, then depth, in centimetres

(E) – estimated size of artwork

portrait – a depiction of a person, especially one depicting only the face or head and shoulders

(?) – there is uncertainty about this information

Two-dimensional art

recto – front of artwork

verso – reverse of artwork

diptych – artwork consisting of two sections: left panel and right panel. The panels are sometimes joined by hinges

triptych – artwork consisting of three sections: centre panel, left wing and right wing. The panels are sometimes joined by hinges

polyptych – artwork consisting of a number of panels

predella – Italian word for the long horizontal structure at the bottom of an altarpiece

composition – the artistic arrangement of the parts of a picture

foreshortening – portray an object or view as closer than it is, or as having less depth or distance, as an effect of perspective or the angle of vision

perspective – the art of representing three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface so as to give the right impression of their height, width, depth, and position in relation to each other

picture plane – when an artist creates an impression of space within a painting, the picture plane is the transparent division between this fictive internal space and the real space outside, in which the viewer is placed. Sometimes painters attempt to give the illusion that the picture plane is pierced by an object or person, which appears to move towards the viewer. This effect can be achieved with extreme foreshortening

sketch – an early stage, small, preliminary version of an artwork, usually executed in an inexpensive material. May differ substantially from final work. In French, 'esquisse', in Italian, 'schizzo' or 'bozzetto'

Three-dimensional art

bust – depiction of a person's head, neck and below, sometimes as far down to the chest of the subject. See also, portrait

cartouche – ornamental enframements, such as for an inscription, monogram, or coat of arms, or ornately framed tablets, often bearing inscriptions

kinetic – depends on motion for its effects. Movement has either been produced mechanically by motors, as in kinetic art pioneer Naum Gabo's Standing Wave, or by exploiting the natural movement of air

maquette – related to model. A maquette is a preparatory model, usually executed in clay or wax, which represents on a smaller scale the subject and composition of a sculpture, which will be executed on a larger scale in a more expensive material

model – preliminary version of a projected sculpture, usually executed with inexpensive material. In English, the term generally applies to all such objects, but other European languages have more specific vocabulary to define the model's particular function, and consequently, it's finish and the type of surface treatment. Therefore, the term model encompasses other terms, such as bozzetto, schizzo, modello, esquisse, maquette and sketch

ready-made – mass-produced utilitarian objects which the artist uses to make works of art by placing them in an artistic context. The term is applied particularly to certain works of Marcel Duchamp, who pioneered the practice

relief – a sculpture in which elements of the composition project from the surface of a more or less flat background, known as a relief plane. There are lots of different kinds of relief, many of which can be incorporated into the same work:

  • high relief: has the greatest degree of projection (in Italian, 'alto rilievo')
  • low relief: has the least (in Italian, 'basso rilievo')
  • middle relief: falls between high and low (in Italian, 'mezzo rilievo')
  • very shallow, low or 'crushed' relief: flattens elements of the scene to barely project from the plane (better known by the Italian, 'rilievo schiacciato', or just 'stiacciato'). Closely related to spatial representation in painting
  • hollow relief: the forms of the composition project below the surface towards the back of a relief panel (in Italian, 'cavo rilievo')