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Altarpiece (or ancona): a large painting or sculpture adorning an altar.
Ambulatory: extension of the aisles around the chancel for processions.
Antefix: a carved ornament at the end of the eaves of a roof to hide the joint between the tiles.
Antependium: a covering hung over the front of an altar.
Apse: a semicircular or polygonal end of a church behind the altar; the outer section is known as the chevet.
Apsidiole: small chapel opening onto the ambulatory of a Romanesque or Gothic church.
Architrave: the lowermost horizontal division of a Classical entablature sitting directly on the column capital and supporting the frieze.
Archivolt: arch moulding over an arcade or upper section of a doorway.
Arcosolium: a tomb found in numerous catacombs, which was built in the wall and surmounted by a niche.
Atlas figure or telamon: a sculptured figure of a man used as a column (the female equivalent is called a caryatid). In Sicily, the most famous are the telamons of the Temple of Olympian Zeus at Agrigento.
Bay: any of a number of principal divisions or spatial units of a building (or part of a building like an aisle of a church) contained within two or four vertical supports (piers, columns, pilasters).
Bouleuterion: meeting place for the town council (boulé).
Buttress: external support of a wall, which counterbalances the thrust of the vaults and arches.
Capital: the upper end of a column, pillar or pier crowning the shaft and taking the weight of the entablature or architrave. There are three Classical orders: Doric ; Ionic, with a scroll-like ornament – the Composite has the Ionic scrolls and acanthus leaf ornament; and the Corinthian, ringed with burgeoning acanthus leaves, especially popular in the 16C and 17C for Baroque buildings. The abacus sits between the capital and the architrave; the structure beneath the abacus is the echinus.
Cardo: one of the main axes of the town plan as recommended by the Classical surveyor Hippodamus of Miletus, normally orientated north–south; the Greek equivalent is the stenopos.
Cathedra: the high-backed throne of a bishop, in Gothic style.
Chiaramonte: an architectural style characterised by two- or three-light windows surmounted by arches with tracery or polychrome geometric decoration.
Ciborium: a canopy (baldaquin) over an altar.
Corbel (or truss): a triangular bracket, usually made of wood, supporting a roof.
Counter-façade: the internal wall of church façade.
Cross (church plan): churches are usually built either in the plan of a Greek cross, with four arms of equal length, or a Latin cross, with one arm longer than the other three.
Crypt: an underground chamber or vault usually beneath a church, often used as a mortuary, burial place or for displaying holy relics. Sometimes it was a small chapel or church in its own right.
Decumanus: a major thoroughfare bisecting a Classical town plan, running on a complementary axis to the cardo, orientated east–west; the Greek equivalent is the plateia.
Dosseret: supplementary capital in the shape of the base of an upturned pyramid, often decorated, set above a column capital to receive the thrust of the arch.
Ekklesiasterion: a meeting place for popular assemblies (ekklesia).
Entablature: in certain buildings, the section at the top of a colonnade consisting of three parts: the architrave (flat section resting on the capitals of a colonnade), the frieze (decorated with carvings) and the cornice (projecting top section).
Exedra: the section in the back of Roman basilicas containing seats; by extension, curved niche or semicircular recess outside.
Fresco: a wall painting applied to wet plaster.
Ghimberga: a triangular Gothic pediment adorning a portal.
Hypocaust: an underground heating system used in Antiquity, whereby floors were raised on a series of small brick columns, enabling hot air to circulate underneath.
Intrados: the inner surface of an arch or vault.
Jamb or pier: a pillar flanking a doorway or window and supporting the arch above.
Keep: the tower stronghold of a castle, usually situated in the centre of a well-protected area.
Keystone: the topmost stone in an arch or vault.
Lantern: a turret with windows on top of a dome.
Lesene (or Lombard strips): a decorative band of pilasters joined at the top by an arched frieze.
Matroneo: the gallery reserved for women in palaeo-Christian and Romanesque churches.
Merlon: part of a crowning parapet between two crenellations. There are two types of merlons: Ghibelline (swallow-tailed), symbolising civil, Imperial power, and Guelf (rectangular), symbolising religious, Papal power.
Modillion: a small console supporting a cornice.
Moulding: an ornamental shaped band which projects from the wall.
Ogive: a pointed arch.
Opus signinum: floor covering obtained by mixing fragments of terracotta and other small pieces of rubble with lime. It is sometimes decorated with marble orstone cobbles.
Overhang: an overhanging or corbelled upper storey.
Ovolo moulding: an egg-shaped ornament incorporated into the entablature.
Palazzo: Italian for town house or square building (housing commercial offices, for example) subtly different in connotation from the word “palace”. In the Renaissance, the ground floor was usually reserved for storage or commercial activities, the first floor or piano nobile comprised the main apartments, and the second floor (alto piano) was allocated to children and domestic staff.
Pantocrator: a hieratic figure of Christ with his hand raised in blessing, often depicted in the apse of palaeo-Christian churches.
Pendentive: the spherical triangular panel that provides the transition from a square or polygonal base (at a crossing) to a circular dome.
Peristyle: the range of columns surrounding a Classical building or courtyard.
Pilaster strip: a structural column partially set into a wall.
Pluteus: a decorated balustrade made from various materials, separating the chancel from the rest of the church.
Polyptych: a painted or carved work consisting of more than three folding leaves or panels (diptych: 2 panels; triptych: 3 panels).
Predella: the base of an altarpiece, divided into small panels.
Pulpit: an elevated dais from which sermons are preached in the nave of a church.
Pyx: a cylindrical box made of ivory or glazed copper for jewels or the Eucharistic host.
Raceme: ornamental vine motif with tendrils, leaves and stylised fruits.
Relief: high relief (altorilievo) is a sculptural term describing the modelled forms that project from the background by at least half their depth (halfway between shallow relief and sculpture in the round). Low relief (bassorilievo) projects only very slightly from the background (also known as bas relief).
Retable: a large and ornate altarpiece divided into several painted or carved panels, especially common in Spain after the 14C.
Rib: a projecting moulding or band on the underside of a dome or vault, which may be structural or ornamental.
Rustication: the facing of a building that exaggeratedly replicates dressed stonework, raised or otherwise from the mortar joints. Rustication was used in the Renaissance to consolidate the impression of impregnability on the ground floor of a palazzo.
Splay: a surface of a wall that forms an oblique angle to the main surface of a doorway or window opening.
Squinch: an alternative to a pendentive comprising a compound number of miniature strainer arches, often intricately decorated with Moorish plasterwork.
Tambour: a circular or polygonal structure supporting a dome.
Trompe l’oeil: two-dimensional painted decoration giving the three-dimensional illusion of relief and perspective.
Vault: an arched structure of stone or brick forming a ceiling or roof over a hall, room, bay or other wholly or partly enclosed space. Barrel vault – a vault with a semicircular cross section. Groin vault (or cross vault) – formed by the perpendicular intersection of two vaults. Bowl-shaped vault – a spherical vault enclosing a semicircular apse.
Vaulting cell: one of the four segments of the cross vault.
Window cross: a stone or wooden post which divides the opening of a window or door. The vertical posts are known as mullions.