Renaissance Italian 101

(A crash course in understanding what those fancy art terms mean.)
Below, you will find the definitions to some of the most common words and phrases associated with Italian Renaissance art and architecture:

Chiaroscuro: Italian for "light and dark,"it's used to obscure the outlines of figures, giving the painting a very dramatic look. The arrows in the diagram below point to the dramatic use of light and dark,with obscured shadows.

Contrapposto: Italian for "set against. any figure that looks like it's standing with the weight balanced on one leg, with the hip slightly thrust out, as seen below and to the right.

 Genre Painting: a work in which the subject matter is of every-day life......nothing else.

Gesso: a mixture of plaster, chalk and glue that acts as a foundation for tempera and oil painting.

Impasto: Italian for "in paste, " it's a technique in which paint is applied in thick brushstrokes that rise off the surface of the canvas.

Palazzo: a large, official secular building or a private residence (sometimes both).


  Perspective: A technique for accurately rendering spatial relationships. Pictured below, is an example of 1 point perspective


 Pilaster: A decorative column that sticks out from a wall, having no structural purpose (see diagram, right).  

Sfumato: Italian for"gone up in smoke," it refers to the delicate and gradual blending of light and dark in the modeling of figures, which often gives a sort of hazy effect (most often associated with the works of Leonardo).The brackets are pointing at sfumato blending below:
 Sacra Conversazione: Italian for "holy conversation," it's whenever you have a group of saints, disciples, or philosophers chatting with the Virgin Mary.

Triptych: A three-paneled altarpiece. Usually, the two, hinged end panels fold over the middle panel like double doors.

Back to the High Renaissance

To the Early Renaissance