Glossary for Museums, Art and History
Abraham a patriarch of the Old Testament, who is the common patriarch of the three Abrahamic religions. His wife Sarah was childless until she bore Abraham’s heir Isaac.
Abrahamic Religions are a group of Semitic-originated religious communities of faith that claim descent from the practices of the ancient Israelites and the worship of the God of Abraham. The major Abrahamic religions are Judaism (founded 7th century BCE), Christianity (1st century CE) and Islam (7th century CE).
Academic Art is a style of painting, sculpture, and architecture produced under the influence of European academies of art. Specifically, academic art is the art and artists influenced by the movements of Neoclassicism and Romanticism.
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.
Adam and Eve according to the creation myth of the Abrahamic religions, were the first man and woman. They are central to the belief that humanity is a single family, with everyone descended from a single pair of original ancestors.
Adoration of the Magi is the name traditionally given to the subject in the Nativity of Jesus in which the three Magi, sometimes represented as kings, who followed a star, to find Jesus and lay before him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Aeneas in Greco-Roman mythology, was a Trojan hero, mentioned in Homer’s Iliad and most extensively in Virgil’s Aeneid, where he is an ancestor of Romulus and Remus. He became the first hero of Rome.
Allegory is a metaphor in which a character, place or event is used to illustrate or convey complex ideas and concepts in ways that are comprehensible or striking to its viewers, readers, or listeners.
Altarpiece is an artwork such as a painting, sculpture or relief representing a religious subject made for placing behind the altar of a Christian church. Altarpieces were one of the most important products of Christian art.
Anthropology is the study of humanity in cultural and physical terms over time and geography.
Apostles were the primary disciples of Jesus, the central figure in Christianity. The apostles were his closest followers and became the primary teachers of the gospel message of Jesus.
Ariadne in Greek mythology was the daughter of Minos, the King of Crete. She helped Theseus navigate the labyrinth to overcome the Minotaur and save the Athenian sacrificial victims.
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 of people of noble birth, who hold hereditary titles and offices.
Arles is a city and commune in the south of France, where the painter Vincent van Gogh, producing over 300 paintings, many of which are his most famous paintings. In 1889, he left Arles for the Saint-Paul asylum at nearby Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
Assyria was a key Mesopotamian kingdom and empire of the Ancient Near East, ruling as an independent state for about 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.
Bacchus was the Roman name for Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, of ritual madness, fertility, theatre and religious ecstasy.
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.
Bible is a collection of sacred texts or scriptures that Jews and Christians consider to be a product of divine inspiration and a record of the relationship between God and humans.
Book of Hours is a Christian devotional book popular in the Middle Ages. It is the most common type of surviving medieval illuminated manuscript. Each book of hours is unique but most contain a similar collection of texts, prayers and psalms, often with appropriate decorations, for Christian devotion.
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.
Byzantine Art refers to the body of Christian Greek artistic products of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, as well as the states that inherited culturally from the empire.
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.
Cathedral is a Christian church which has the seat of a bishop, thus serving as the central church of a diocese.
Ceramics are objects, such as pots and vases, made of clay hardened by heat.
Cherub is one of the unearthly beings who directly attend to God according to Abrahamic religions. In Western art, cherubim became associated with the Greco-Roman god Cupid/Eros, with depictions as small, plump, winged boys.
Chronicle is a historical account of facts and events ranged in chronological order.
Composition is the arrangement of the elements within a work of art to form a unified whole. Used in reference to works of art, music, literature or building and its related structure or organization.
Crucifix is an image of Jesus on the cross, as distinct from a bare cross.
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.
Dido was according to ancient Greek and Roman sources, the founder and first queen of Carthage. She is primarily known from the epic, Aeneid by the Roman poet Virgil.
Dionysus is the Greek god of wine, of ritual madness, fertility, theatre and religious ecstasy in ancient Greek religion and myth. Wine played an important role in Greek culture, and his cult was the main religious focus for its unrestrained consumption
Diptych is an object with two flat plates attached at a hinge.
Doge was an elected chief of state in many of the Italian city-states or republics during the medieval and renaissance periods.
Enlightenment is a cultural and intellectual movement of the late 17th to late 18th centuries that emphasized reason and individualism and not 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.
Eucharist is a Christian rite that is considered a sacrament in most churches. The rite was instituted by Jesus Christ during the Last Supper when Jesus commanded his followers to “do this in memory of me” while referring to the bread as “my body” and the wine as “my blood”.
Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany which was a centre of medieval European trade and finance and one of the wealthiest cities of that era. It is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance.
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.
Fresco is a technique of mural painting executed upon wet lime plaster. Water is used as the vehicle for the dry-powder pigment to merge with the plaster, and with the setting of the plaster, the painting becomes an integral part of the wall.
Gothic Art was a style of medieval art that developed in Northern France out of Romanesque art in the 12th century AD. It spread to all of Western Europe, never quite erase more classical styles in Italy. Gothic Art included sculpture, panel painting, stained glass, fresco and illuminated manuscripts.
Hercules is a Roman hero and god. He was the equivalent of the Greek divine hero Heracles, who was the son of Zeus (Roman equivalent Jupiter). In classical mythology, Hercules is famous for his strength and for his many adventures.
Homer is the legendary author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, two epic poems that are the central works of ancient Greek literature.
Humanism is the intellectual movement of the Renaissance associated with the rediscovery of classical ideas about the role of humanity.
Icon is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting. The most common subjects include Christ, Mary, saints or angels. The term covers most religious images in a variety of artistic media produced by Eastern Christianity, including narrative scenes.
Iliad is Homer’s epic poem set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greeks. It focuses on a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles lasting a few weeks during the last year of the war.
Impressionism is a 19th-century art movement characterised by small, thin, visible brush strokes emphasising the accurate depiction of light. Impressionism originated with a group of Paris-based artists whose exhibitions brought them to prominence during the 1870s and 1880s.
Inquisition was a Catholic Church initiative whose aim was to combat public heresy committed by Christians. It started in 12th-century France to combat religious dissent and inquisitors were generally chosen from members of the Dominican Order.
In-situ is a Latin term meaning in the natural or original position and place.
Iron Age is an archaeological era, referring to a time in the prehistory when the dominant toolmaking material was iron.
Jesus Christ is a first-century Jewish preacher and religious leader who is the central figure of Christianity. Most Christians believe he is the incarnation of God the Son.
Judas Iscariot was a disciple of Jesus Christ who betrayed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane by kissing him and addressing him as “Rabbi” to reveal his identity. His name Judas is used synonymously with betrayal or treason.
Judgment of Solomon is a story from the Bible in which King Solomon of Israel ruled between two women both claiming to be the mother of a child. Solomon revealed the true mother by suggesting to cut the baby in two, with each woman to receive half.
Keystone (or capstone) is the wedge-shaped stone piece at the apex of a masonry arch or the round one at the apex of a vault. In both cases it is the last piece placed during construction and locks all the stones into place, allowing the arch or vault to bear weight.
Labyrinth in Greek mythology was an elaborate, confusing structure designed and built to hold the Minotaur, the monster eventually killed by the hero Theseus.
Last Judgment (or Final Judgment, or Day of Judgment) is part the last and eternal judgment by God of all the people resulting in the glorification of some and the punishment of others.
Lazarus is the man that Jesus restores him to life four days after his death. It is a prominent miracle of Jesus in the Gospel of John.
Michelangelo was an Italian sculptor, painter, architect and poet of the High Renaissance who is considered the greatest living artist during his lifetime and one of the greatest artists of all time.
Minotaur in Greek mythology is a creature with the head and tail of a bull and the body of a man. Part man and part bull, he dwelt at the centre of the Labyrinth in Crete. The Minotaur was eventually killed by the Athenian hero Theseus.
Motif is a distinctive and often recurring feature in a composition.
Mural is a large painting applied to a wall or ceiling.
Odyssey is Homer’s epic poem that focuses on the journey home of Odysseus, king of Ithaca, after the fall of Troy.
Pope also known as the supreme pontiff is the Bishop of Rome and the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church.
Passion is the term used to describe the last period in the life of Jesus covering his entrance to Jerusalem and leading to his crucifixion.
Portrait is a representation or painting of a particular person.
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.
Quran (also Qur’an or Koran) is the central religious text of Islam.
Relics is the body parts or personal belongings of saints and other important religious figures that are preserved for purposes of commemoration or veneration.
Renaissance is a period in European history, between the 14th and 17th centuries, which was a cultural movement that profoundly affected European intellectual life in the early modern period. Its influence was felt in literature, philosophy, art, music, politics, science and religion. Renaissance Artists searched for realism and human emotion in art.
Rococo was an exuberantly decorative 18th-century European style which pushed to the extreme the principles of illusion and theatricality. The style featured dense ornament, asymmetry, fluid curves with extravagant gilding.
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.
Siena is a city in central Italy’s Tuscany region, is distinguished by its medieval history and early contributions by its artists to Medieval Art.
Still life is a representation of inanimate objects such as a bowl of fruit.
Tempera (or egg tempera) is a permanent, fast-drying painting medium consisting of coloured pigments mixed with a water-soluble binder medium, usually egg yolk.
Theseus was an Athenian hero who killed the Minotaur, a beast which is half man and half bull, who lived in a labyrinth on the island of Crete.
Titian was the most important Italian painter of the 16th-century Venetian school. Titian was a versatile painter adept with portraits, landscape, mythological and religious subjects. His application and use of colour had a profound influence on painters of the Italian Renaissance and Western art.
Triptych is a work of art, usually a panel painting, divided into three sections or three carved panels that are hinged together and can be folded shut or displayed openly.
Venus is the Roman goddess whose functions encompassed love, beauty, desire, sex, fertility, nudity, prosperity and victory. Venus was central to many religious festivals and was revered in Roman religion under many cult titles.
Virginal is a keyboard instrument of the harpsichord family that was popular in Europe during the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods.
Votive offering is an object displayed or deposited, without the intention of recovery or use, in a sacred place for religious purposes to gain favour.
Woodcut is a relief printing technique in printmaking. An image is carved into the surface of a block of wood leaving the printing parts level while removing the non-printing parts. Areas that are cut away carry no ink, while images at surface level, carry the ink to produce the print.
Ziggurat is a terraced pyramid comprising successively receding stories.
“History is a set of lies agreed upon.”
– Napoléon Bonaparte
Photo Credit: JOM