Joy of Museums

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Glossary for Museums, Art and History

Metropolitan Museum of Art - MET - Joy of Museums - 2

Glossary for Museums, Art and History

Absolute Monarchy is a system of government which is headed by a monarch or king as the only source of power controlling all functions of the state.

Abstract is a term used to describe art that is not representational or based on the external view of reality or nature.

Anthropology is the study of humanity in cultural and physical terms over time and geography.

Architecture is the science and art or profession of designing and constructing buildings and other large structures.

Architectural History is the study of buildings and structures in their historical and stylistic context.

Archive is a collection of historical documents and records or the physical repository in which they are located.

Aristocracy is the highest class in certain societies, comprising people of noble birth, who hold hereditary titles and offices.

Assyria was a key Mesopotamian kingdom and empire of the Ancient Near East, ruling as an independent state for a period of approximately 19 centuries from c. 2500 BC to 600 BC.

Art History is the study of objects of art in their historical and stylistic context.

Artifact is a material object created by a culture.

Avant-garde is French for “advanced guard,” this term is used to describe a group that is innovative, experimental, and inventive in its technique or ideology. The term can be applied to the realms of culture, music and the arts.

Baroque is a term meaning extravagant and dramatic typified by bold, curving forms with elaborate ornamentation. Baroque style in art and architecture was developed in Europe from the early seventeenth to mid-eighteenth century.

Bauhaus is a German school of art, design and architecture, founded in 1919. The school aimed to re-establish the craftsmanship connection between artistic creativity and manufacturing that had been broken by the Industrial Revolution.

Bas-relief is a type of relief sculpture that has a minimal depth to the faces and figures than when measured to scale. Bas-relief retains the natural contours of the figures displayed and allows the work to be viewed from multiple angles without distortion of the figures.

Bering Land Bridge is the tundra plain that was exposed between Asia and North America during the last glacial maximum, about 21,000 years ago. It served as a migration route for people, animals, and plants between the two continents.

Biography is a written account of an individual’s life, written by another person

Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of bronze, proto-writing, and early features of urban civilization. The Bronze Age is the second key period of the three-age Stone-Bronze-Iron system for classifying and studying ancient societies.

Byzantium was an ancient Greek colony on the site that later became Constantinople and the centre of the Byzantine Empire and today the city is called Istanbul.

Caesar is a term used by leaders to signify their status.  When the Roman leader Gaius Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, his nephew and successor Augustus adopted the family name, Caesar. The leaders that followed Augustus Caesar, Tiberius and Caligula inherited and adopted the name Caesar as well. Later Roman emperors acquired the name upon their succession. ‘Caesar’ did not originally mean ’emperor’, although it later became a synonym for autocrat or powerful leader.

Canvas is the cotton or linen woven cloth used as a surface for painting.

Ceramics are objects, such as pots and vases, made of clay hardened by heat.

Chronicle is a historical account of facts and events ranged in chronological order.

Composition is the arrangement of the individual elements within a work of art so as to form a unified whole. Used in reference to works of art, music,  literature or building and its related structure or organization.

Cubism is the artistic movement begun in 1907 when artists such as Pablo Picasso developed a visual approach whose geometric planes and compressed space challenged the conventions of representation in painting. Subjects such as human figures, landscapes, and still life were reinterpreted as increasingly fragmented compositions.

Curator is a professional whose job it is to research and manage a collection and organize exhibitions.

Enlightenment is a cultural and intellectual movement of the late 17th to late 18th centuries that emphasized reason and individualism rather than tradition.

Etching is a type of print made by carving marks onto the surface of a metal plate usually copper, zinc, or steel. The plate is inked, and an image is created by running the plate and paper through a printing press.

Fossil is an organism or fragment whose impressions or traces are preserved in rock. They were organic specimens that have gone through a process of replacement of organic material by the inorganic material.

Humanism is the intellectual movement of the Renaissance associated with the rediscovery of classical ideas about the role of humanity.

In-situ is a Latin term meaning in the natural or original position and place.

Iron Age is an archaeological era, referring to a period of time in the prehistory when the dominant toolmaking material was iron.

Motif is a distinctive and often recurring feature in a composition.

Mural is a large painting applied to a wall or ceiling.

Portrait is a representation of a particular individual.

Pose is the way a figure is positioned.

Provenience is information that defines an object in terms of the specific geographic point of origin as well is the background and history of ownership.

Relics is the body parts or personal belongings of saints and other important religious figures that are preserved for purposes of commemoration or veneration.

Sculptor is the person who produces a three-dimensional work of art by carving wood, chiselling stone, casting or welding metal, moulding a variety of materials or assembling unique pieces of materials.

Self-portrait is a representation of oneself made by oneself.

Still life is a representation of inanimate objects such as a bowl of fruit.

Ziggurat is a terraced pyramid comprising successively receding stories.


“History is a set of lies agreed upon.”
– Napoléon Bonaparte


Photo Credit: JOM