Glossary of Useful Terms

A work in progress subject to continual updating. Last update : Dec 2020



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Abrasion (Abrazione)
A loss of media or scratches, often resulting in a loss on the surface, extending to the paint and ground layers, caused by faulty cleaning, friction as well as where the frame touches the painted surface.

Accelerated Perspective
Accelerated perspective is an intentional exaggeration of perspective often in a stage setting to permit a shallower than appears actual stage depth. Accelerated perspective was developed in stage scenery in sixteenth-century theater productions. It shows objects as if they were farther away than they really are by diminishing their size or by elevating the visual horizon so that the stage appears is sloped upwards in order to accelerate effects of perspective diminution. The term is also used to describe non-mathematically derived perspective that create an exaggerated sense of spatial depth, drawing the spectator violently in the space of the painting.

Altarpiece
An altarpiece is a picture or relief representing a sacred motif or subject and suspended in a frame behind the altar of a temple/church/sacred space.

Anemoia
A longing for a time you’ve never known. From Greek: Greek anemos, ‘wind’ + noos ‘mind’. Anemoia is a psychological corollary to anemosis, which is when a tree is warped by strong air currents until it seems to bend backward, leaning into the wind.

Antiquity
A broadly applied term which refers to the history and culture of a period of Western civilization. It is primarily used in an art-historical context to describe Greco-Roman life and art in Europe prior to the decline of the Roman empire.

The literary, cultural and architectural remains surviving from Antiquity were particularly valued during the Renaissance. Artists might depict Roman ruins in the background or use classical inscriptions and Roman lettering within a picture. They also sought archaeological exactness in dress.

Armature
Refers to the wire framework upon which clay may be sculpted – like the skeleton of a body, it is covered but vital to structure. It is also the term given to geometric organisational layouts underpinning painted compositions.

Atmospheric Perspective (Arial Perspective)
A principle taken from observable nature by the painter to depict distance in their work. As the distance between objects, such as mountain ranges, and the viewer increases, the contrast between the object and its background decreases, and the contrast of any markings or details within the object also decreases.

Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627–1678), a seventeenth-century Dutch painter remarked that “it appears that [in nature] the air forms a body even over a short distance, and clothes itself in the color of the heavens.”

The colours of the object become less saturated and shift towards the hue and value of the general atmosphere such as the blue of the sky, though at sunrise or sunset distant colors may shift towards red and the aforementioned principles may be inversed.

Atmospheric perspective had been firmly established as a mimetic device by the fifteenth century, and explanations of its effects were written by polymaths such as Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472) and Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519). The landscape in the background of da Vinci’s portrait of Ginevra de Benci provides an early example of aerial perspective.

Alterstil
A Dutch term used to describe a style of an older artist who no longer conforms to any current or prevailing style. Such a style is often seen as visionary, for example the late style of Rembrandt (1606–1669) or Titian (c. 1488/1490–1576), or Beethoven’s late string quartets, or in recent history the works of Ernst Fuchs  (13 February 1930 – 9 November 2015)  and H.R Giger (5 February 1940 – 12 May 2014).

Axis
An implied or visible straight line in painting or sculpture in the center of a form along its dominant direction. In painting, consciously employed axes are used to give structure and stabilize the composition, analogous to the spine does in the human body.



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Balance
Pictorial balance is an arrangement of parts aimed at achieving a state of visual equilibrium between opposing forces or influences. Balance may be achieved by various methods including symmetry and asymmetry. Renaissance painters such as Raphael (1483–1520) and Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), balanced some of their works around a rigorous symmetrical design. Raphael placed the most important figure in the middle of the composition, with balancing figures on each side, a standard arrangement for all classically balanced pictures. 

Biomechanics
An aesthetic greatly developed by the Swiss artist Hans Rudi Giger, representing a fusion of the organic and mechanic, occuring in a physical and sexualised way rather than via the intellectual or cerebral envisionings of the cyberpunk genre. Highly influential and triggering, HR Gigers influence has become pervasive within movies, computer games, tattoo work and painting.



C


Capriccio 
In Italian capriccio (plural, capricci) means that which is capricious, whimsical or fantastic. In relation to painting the term is usually used to describe imaginary topographical scenes.

The Venetian landscape painter Francesco Guardi (1712–1793) recombined capricci with natural architectural elements, drawn from actual sites, to create inventive relationships for decorative effects.

Piranesi (1720-1778) , the supreme exponent of topographical engraving, was particularly adept at such visionary Architectural Capricci.

Fantastical view of the Via Appia. Engraving by Giovanni Battista Piranesi

Capriccio themes echoee in Shelley’s celebrated Sonnet Ozymandias:

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said -- "two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert... near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lips, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my Works ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away

Chiaroscuro
Chiaro – Light. Scuro – Dark, or shadow.
In painting, a style emphasising dramatic contrasts between light and dark.

Continuous Narrative
Continuous narrative represents different parts of a single story within the same visual space, using of two or more chronologically distinct episodes, which repeat characters as necessary.

Contraposto
 (Italian pronunciation: [kontrapˈposto]) is an Italian term that means “counterpoise”. It is used in the visual arts to describe a human figure standing with most of its weight on one foot, so that its shoulders and arms twist off-axis from the hips and legs in the axial plane. More generally: The curved line around the straight.



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Fantastic Realism (or, Vienna School of Fantastic Realism)
Wiener Schule des Phantastischen Realismus is a group of artists founded in Vienna in 1946. It includes Ernst Fuchs, Arik Brauer, Wolfgang Hutter and Anton Lehmden, all students of Professor Albert Paris Gütersloh at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. It was Gütersloh’s emphasis on the techniques of the Old Masters that gave the fantastic realist painters a grounding in realism combined with religious and esoteric symbolism. 

Fractal
A fractal is a never-ending pattern. Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales. They are created by repeating a simple process over and over in an ongoing feedback loop.

Driven by recursion, fractals are images of dynamic systems – the pictures of Chaos.

Foreshortening
Seen from an angle. An aspect of perspective. The size of an object’s dimensions along the line of sight are relatively shorter than dimensions across the line of sight


 

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Holon
A holon is something that is simultaneously a whole and a part. The word was used by Arthur Koestler in his book The Ghost in the Machine.

The phrase to hólon is a Greek word preceding the Latin analogue universum, in the sense of totality, a whole.

Humanism
Humanism was a move away from a religious view of the world, where God and the Church were the centre of the social and cultural focus, to one which saw human beings as being the agents of their own destiny and thus the focus of society and culture.

A cultural and intellectual movement of the Renaissance that emphasized secular concerns as a result of the rediscovery and study of the literature, art, and civilization of ancient Greece and Rome.


 

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Imaginal
See Mundus Imaginalis


 

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M



Mannerism
Derived from the Italian maniera, meaning simply “style,” mannerism is sometimes defined as the “stylish style” for its emphasis on self-conscious artifice over realistic depiction. … Mannerism coincided with a period of upheaval that was torn by the Reformation, plague, and the devastating sack of Rome.

The figures in Mannerist works frequently have graceful but queerly elongated limbs, small heads, and stylized facial features, while their poses seem difficult or contrived. … The Mannerist style completely emerged in the paintings of these artists as well as in those of Parmigianino.

Meme
Applying the Darwinian evolutionary algorithm to the mental space, in The Selfish Gene (Dawkins 1976) the great English ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins defined a `meme’ as: “a unit of cultural transmission”.

`The new soup is the soup of human culture. We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation… Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches.’

Dawkins [1976]

Memetics proposes that our minds are a terrain or ecosystem host to ‘ideas’, rather than ideas being an intrisic part of our personality structure. Such an approach is useful in the examination of ideologies, as it gives ‘wiggle room’ between one’s ‘core identity’ and what one ‘believes’. It is also a useful theory through which to understand the spread and competition of ideas

Subdefinitions relating to memetics (the study of memes)

  • Memeplex – a collection or grouping of memes that have evolved into a mutually supportive or symbiotic relationship. Simply put, a meme-complex is a set of ideas that reinforce each other. An example of a memeplex would be a religion or political creed.
  • Meme pool – a population of interbreeding memes.
  • Memetic engineering – The process of deliberately creating memes, using engineering principles.
  • Memeoid – people who have been ‘possessed’ by a meme to the extent that their own survival becomes inconsequential. 
  • Memetic equilibrium – the cultural equivalent of species biological equilibrium. It is that which humans strive for in terms of personal value with respect to cultural artefacts and ideas. The term was coined by Christopher diCarlo.
  • Metamemetic thinking – coined by Diego Fontanive, is the thinking skill & cognitive training capable of making individuals acknowledge illogical memes.
  • Eumemics – the belief and practice of deliberately improving the quality of the meme pool.
  • Memocide – intentional action to eradicate a meme or memeplex from the population, either by killing its carriers or by censorship.

Historical correlations to ‘memes’ could include everything from ‘discarnate entities’, ‘egregores’, ‘spirit possession’, ‘archetypes’, and so on.


Mundus Imaginalis
Henry Corbin refers to the mundus imaginalis as having a ‘central mediating function’ so that all levels of reality may ‘symbolise with each other’ .

“The technical term that designates it in Arabic, ‘alam a mithal, can perhaps also be translated by mundus archetypus… the same word that serves in Arabic to designate the Platonic Ideas… these images subsist preexistent to and ordered before the sensory world… a world in which subsist the forms of all works accomplished, the forms of our thoughts and our desires, of our presentiments and our behavior. It is this composition that constitutes ‘alam al-mithal, the mundus imaginalis.”

For Corbin, the mundus imaginalis is a ‘fully objective and real world with equivalents for everything existing in the sensible world without being perceptible by the senses’ .

Reference: Corbin, ‘Mundus imaginalis, or the imaginary and the imaginal’, 1972. 


 

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Narrative
Telling a story – such as a sacred myth – through pictorial fields and representations.


 

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Prefiguration & Prophesy
To show or suggest something that may or will happen in the future.

Prime of Styles (Ein Verschollener Stil)
Designated by Ernst Fuchs – a ‘hidden prime’, a secret grammar expressing itself through the human representations of the divine. The theory of which he set forth in his inspired and grandiose book Architectura Caelestis: Die Bilder des verschollenen Stils (Salzburg, 1966).


 

Perennialism, or, perennial philosophy 
(Latinphilosophia perennis),[note 1] also referred to as perennialism and perennial wisdom, is a perspective in spirituality that views all of the world’s religious traditions as sharing a single, metaphysical truth or origin from which all esoteric and exoteric knowledge and doctrine has grown.

Perennialism has its roots in the Renaissance interest in neo-Platonism and its idea of the One, from which all existence emanates.  In the 20th century universalism was further popularized in the English-speaking world through the neo-Vedanta inspired Traditionalist School, which argued for a metaphysical, single origin of the orthodox religions


 

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Renaissance Man/Woman  (Traditional) 
Renaissance Person (Modern colloquialism) 
A person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas; such a person is known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems. The term was first used in the seventeenth century but the related term, polyhistor, is an ancient term with similar meaning.

These thinkers embodied a notion that emerged in Renaissance Italy and that was expressed by one of its most accomplished representatives, Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472), that “a man can do all things if he will.” The concept embodied a basic tenet of Renaissance humanism, that humans are empowered and limitless in their capacity for development, and it led to the notion that people should embrace all knowledge and develop their capacities as fully as possible.

The term applies to the gifted people of the Renaissance who sought to develop their abilities in all areas of knowledge as well as in physical development, social accomplishments, and the arts, in contrast to the vast majority of people of that age who were not well educated. This term entered the lexicon during the twentieth century and has been applied to great thinkers living before and after the Renaissance.


 

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Sfumato
Smoke/mist/haze. A term given to extremely subtle nuanced blending in order to create indeterminate ‘edges’ that may change according to viewers subjective state or interaction with various light conditions within the oil glaze. It is the endevour of the painter to make the separation of masses soft, blurry and indeterminate. Its’ emergence as an approach is attributed to Leonardo da Vinci but is evident in the work of Giovanni Bellini and his students Giorgione and Titian.
It is a style used pervasively within the contemporary visual arts. Though some artists still explore and pursue sfumato with conscious emphasis and using approaches such as the airbrush to perfect the effect. 

Soffio
Latin : Breath/hiss/heart
An alternative term for ‘sfumato abrazione’ coined by Daniel Mirante to describe a sfumato approach, either via mouth spray, atomiser or air brush, combined with forms of reductive technique.

Sublime
The theory of sublime art was put forward by Edmund Burke in A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful published in 1757. He defined the sublime as an artistic effect productive of the strongest emotion the mind is capable of feeling. He wrote ‘whatever is in any sort terrible or is conversant about terrible objects or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime’.

CASPAR DAVID FRIEDRICH, WANDERER ABOVE THE SEA OF FOG.

CASPAR DAVID FRIEDRICH, WANDERER ABOVE THE SEA OF FOG.

In landscape the sublime is exemplified by J.M.W Turner’s sea storms and mountain scenes and in history painting by the violent dramas of Henry Fuseli. The notion that a legitimate function of art can be to produce upsetting or disturbing effects was an important element in Romantic art and remains fundamental to art today.

Terror and astonishment are kindred states, as Burke makes clear in an etymological aside:

The Romans used the verb stupeo, a term which strongly marks the state of an astonished mind, to express the effect either of simple fear, or of astonishment; the word attonitus, (thunderstruck) is equally expressive of the alliance of these ideas; and do not the french étonnement and the english astonishment and amazement, point out as clearly the kindred emotions which attend fear and wonder?

The concept of the sublime has been a source of lively debate and difference. William Blake quarrelled with Edmund Burke’s choice of sublime objects (ratios of the five senses rather than glimpses of Eternal Death or of Divine Vision) and Burke’s apparatus of transformation (nerves and muscles rather than passion and imagination). 


 

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Tempera
A permanent, fast-drying painting medium consisting of colored pigment mixed with a water-soluble binder medium, or egg whites

Terribilità
One of the qualities most admired by Michelangelo’s contemporaries was his terribilità, a sense of awe-inspiring grandeur.

Traditionalist School 
A group of 20th- and 21st-century thinkers who believe in the existence of a perennial wisdom or perennial philosophy, primordial and universal truths which form the source for, and are shared by, all the major world religions.

The principal thinkers in this tradition are René GuénonAnanda Coomaraswamy and Frithjof Schuon. Other important thinkers in this tradition include Titus BurckhardtMartin Lings, etc


 

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Veduta ideata
Larger-than-life depictions of ancient civilisations in their glory

Veduta di fantasi
Architectural fantasies of things that may have existed but are forgotten, or may yet be to come, or exist soley as an ideal, or metaphor or allegory.


 

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