Glossary of Esoteric Architectural and Design Terms
abacus The flat plate on the top of a capitol on which the architrave rests.
acanthus A plant whose leaf is used to decorate the capital of the Corinthian order, also found in moldings.
acroterion An ornamental projection at the corner or peak of a roof; or the base that supports the ornament.
aedicule an architectural elevation in miniature; a decorative niche, often housing an altar.
aerugo A sheen or patina either naturally occurring or simulated, which gives the appearance of age.
altar The focal point of a place of worship, raised platform or table where ceremonies are performed.
alter To change in any manner.
antefixae Ornamental blocks on the edge of a roof which conceal the ends of the roof tiles
anthemion A stylized representation of the honeysuckle flower, most often used in conjunction with palmettes in a frieze.
apse In a church, a semicircular or polygonal projection at the altar (usually east) end, beyond the sanctuary.
arabesque In Islamic art, the elaborative application of repeating geometric forms of plants and animals; style "in the Arab fashion."
architrave A horizontal beam or lintel, that rests on columns or piers; or the lowest portion of an entablature; or a decorative moulding around a door, a window, or an arch.
archivolt One of several parallel curved, and often decorated, mouldings on the inside of an arched opening; a curved architrave.
arris The sharp edge formed by two surfaces meeting at an angle, such as the rib of a groin vault, or the raised edges which separate the flutings in a Doric column.
ashlar Stone that has been cut square and dressed.
astragal A narrow convex molding often having the form of beading. Simple T-shaped astragals are common on French doors.
atlantes Sculptural supports in the form of males figures (Atlas) in classical and neo-classical architecture; male caryatids, sometimes called by the Greek term "telemones"
atrium In classical architecture, an interior courtyard that is open to the air.
aumbry A recess to hold reliquaries or sacred vessels, often found in castle chapels.
auricular "ear-like" a bizarre style of ornament that emerged in the early 17th century in the Low Countries that features skin-like folds
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Ă©tocs Roof finials, usually made of terra cotta with deep green or polychrome glazes, in traditional Norman architecture.
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baldachin An ornamented canopy, supported by columns or suspended from a roof or projected from a wall, usually over an altar, or throne.
baluster A miniature column or other form of upright which, in a series, supports a railing or handrail.
balustrade A railing composed of post (balusters) and a handrail.
bargeboard Board or other decorative woodwork fixed to the edges or projecting rafters of a gabled roof. Sometimes called gingerbread.
barrel vault A masonry vault in the form of a semicircular arch.
bas-relief A low relief sculpture that projects only slightly from its two dimensional background.
bastion In military architecture, an angular and pointed projection, often diamond-shaped and usually located at a corner, that enabled gunners to defend the ramparts and curtains of a fortification.
battlement A notched parapet, originally intended for defense; the notches are called battlements or crenellations. Hence a battlemented parapet is also known as a crenellated parapet.
bellcast An eave that curves, or flares, outward like the flanges of a bell.
bezant A coin-shaped ornament, and a common feature on Victorian buildings. Also the heraldic representation of a gold coin, named for the coins minted at Byzantium
bier A stand on which a casket or sometimes just the corpse is placed, to lie in state prior to being carried to the grave.
boiserie A French term for decorative wood paneling, generally the type that is elaborately carved then painted and gilt.
bokeh The pleasing quality of the out of focus areas of an image produced by a lens. Derived from the Japanese word boke, "blurred," this term is sometimes used to describe the deliberate blurring of areas of a painting to create a sense of depth.
boss In masonry construction, a projecting ornament, often located at the intersection of two components; also, the person in charge.
bracket A member often triangular in form, that projects from a wall or other vertical surface and supports another component, such as an eave.
bucrane An ox-skull ornament typical in Roman or neoclassical decoration, from which festoons might hang or as support for garlands.
buttress A vertical strip of heavy masonry applied to the wall of a building to provide structural reinforcement against lateral forces (as from a vault or an arch). When the buttress is a free-standing pier attached to the wall by one or more arches, it is called a flying buttress.
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campaniform In the shape of a bell.
cantilever A horizontal projection from a building, such as a step, balcony, beam or canopy, that is without external bracing and appears to be self-supporting.
capital The decorative head of a column, pilaster, pier, or other vertical support.
cartouche A decorated panel, often curvilinear in form, much like a frame.
caryatid A support or column in the shape of a female figure.
casein A water soluble paint in which milk protein (casein) is the binder; also called milk paint.
cassapanca A carved wooden bench with a high and elaborately decorated back, often painted or carved with renaissance style ornament. see also cassone
cassone An elaborately decorated dowry chest from 16-17th century Italy, with carved, gilt, inlaid or painted ornament.
castellated Decorated with battlements (a parapet with alternating indentation and raised portions); also called crenellation
castrum doloris A decorative structure arranged over the catafalque or bier, that signifes the prestige of the deceased. Latin for "castle of grief"
catafalque A raised platform or bier, which supports the casket, coffin, or body during a memorial service. from catafalco, the Italian word for scaffolding.
chamfer A sloping or beveled edge.
champlevĂ© An enamelling technique, or an object made by that process, in which designs are carved into the surface, filled with vitreous enamel, fired and polished.
chatoyance chatoyancy or 'cat's eye effect' is a reflectance or optical effect in certain woods and gemstones. From the French "Ĺ“il de chat"
cherub A winged celestial being, the second of the nine orders of angels, usually portrayed as a chubby rosy-faced child.
chiaroscuro The contrast of light and dark in a painting, used for dramatic effect.
chinoiserie A European decorating style using Chinese and other "oriental" ornamentation, most fashionable in the 17th and 18th centuries.
ciborium A freestanding canopy or covering supported by columns, which covers the altar in a church or cathedral. see also baldachin
clerestory A row of windows located near the top of the wall of a nave or room or other space.
clocher A belltower on a church (from the French cloche, or bell).
coffer A recessed decorative panel in a ceiling, vault, or dome. Such a boring word, really. see lacunar.
colophon A printer's mark or publisher's emblem usually found on the spine or title page of a book. Historically, a statement at the end of a book, with information about the creation of that edition.
corbel A kind of bracket composed of a single projecting block, or of several graduated projecting courses of masonry, providing a ledge.
corinthian column In classical architecture, a column decorated at the top with a mixed bag of curlicues, scrolls and other lavish ornamentation.
crenellation A regular series of gaps in the low wall at the edge of a roof.
cresting A decorative rail, or a row of finials, or another feature at the top of a building, often along the ridge of the roof.
crocket An upwardly projecting repeated decorative element, often along spires and gables in Gothic Revival architecture.
cupola A feature at the top of a roof, usually dome-shaped and opened by windows or columns.
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dado Paneling, usually wood, that is applied to the lower portion of a wall, above a baseboard.
dais A raised platform in a room for dignified occupancy; the high table, historically at the end of a dining hall.
damascening The intricate technique of inlaying gold and silver into an iron or darkly oxidized steel background, most notably in Spanish-made weapons. Known as "shippou-zogan" in Japan, a similar process to champlevĂ©.
dentil A small, tooth-like square block, used in a row as a decorative feature in a cornice.
di sotto in sĂą Refers to the quadratura/anamoprphic technique that creates the perception of true space on a painted ceiling above the viewer. Italian for "from below, upward"
diaper pattern All-over surface decoration of a repeated motif.
distemper A water-soluble paint using egg-yolk or glue size as a binder. Used mostly for flat indoor wall decoration.
doric column A Greek-style column with only a simple decoration around the top, usually a smooth or slightly rounded band of wood, stone or plaster.
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echinus A convex projecting moulding near the top of a capital.
ell A single-story lean-to wing of a building that usually contains a kitchen or covered porch. Ells were added to many houses with wooden frameworks in New England, and are also common add-ons to Victorians.
encaustic Ancient technique of painting with layers of melted wax and pigment. The finished painting is then fused with heat.
enfilade Connecting suites of rooms aligned along a single axis, an arrangement popular in Rococo architecture. Examples: Versailles, Sans Souci.
entablature The horizontal component, usually decorated, that lies directly above the column or other support; in classical architecture, the entablature is composed of an architrave, a frieze and a cornice.
entasis The slight tapering of a column; swelling towards the base.
escutcheon An ornamental plate fitted around a keyhole or other small opening, for protection and decoration
espagnolette A decorative bracket or mount in the form of a female bust, mask, or face. This term also refers to a locking handle used on french doors and casement windows.
exonarthex The outer vestibule of a church.
exonumia Numismatic items such as medals, tokens, and other non-monetary coin-like objects; the study and/or collection of these objects
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farrago A motley collection of a variety of miscellaneous things.
fascia A horizontal piece (such as a board) covering the joint between the top of a wall and the projecting eaves of a roof.
faux Not real; made to appear as something more exotic or expensive (French for 'false') as in faux marbre, faux fur. In recent parlance this word has been used erroneously, to describe all manner of decorative painting. However, a "faux" painter, by definition, is not a real painter.
festoon A carved or painted ornament in the form of a garland of fruit and flowers tied with ribbons and suspended at both ends in a swag or loop.
filiform Thread-like, thin patterns, like filigree.
finial An ornamental projection at the top of a gable, roof, or other high component.
flĂ¨che A slender spire atop a tower (French for 'arrow').
flitch A stack of sheets of veneer sawn from the same log lain together in the order in which they were cut.
fluting Shallow, concave grooves running vertically on the shaft of a column, pilaster or other surface.
flying buttress An arch or half-arch that transfers the thrust of a vault or roof from an upper part of a wall to a lower support.
foyer The entrance hall of a home.
fresco A method of painting on fresh plaster with water based paints; the design is then absorbed into the plaster as it dries and becomes a permanent part of the surface. Painting onto dry plaster is called secco-fresco.
fret A geometrical pattern of horizontal and vertical lines making a pattern band. Also called a "meander" or a "greek key."
frieze The middle portion of an entablature, or any decorated horizontal band.
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gallery A long room, often on an upper floor, for recreation, entertainment or display of artwork.
gallimaufry Decoration with a motley assortment of odds and ends; an eclectic collection (also a medieval English stew with bacon and mustard).
galloon Braided trim of bullion thread, used as a type of passementerie on drapery or upholstery. Also used on mens coats in the 18th century and in womens fashion in the 19th.
gambrel roof A roof that has a double slope, with the lower slope steeper and longer than the upper one.
gargoyle A figure that projects from a roof or the parapet of a wall or tower and is carved into a grotesque form, human or animal.
gazebo A small lookout tower or summerhouse with a view, usually in a garden or park, but sometimes on the porch or roof of a house; also called a belvedere.
girandole Carved or glided sconces with mirrored backplates to reflect the candlelight. also used to describe elaborate Rococo candelabrum.
golden mean The desireable middle between two extremes as defined by the philospher Aristotle.
golden ratio The Section d'Or refers to a geometric proportion devised to give the most pleasing composition, divided so that the smaller part is to the larger part, as the larger part is to the whole. This is calculated using the number Ď† (phi) whose value is approximately 1.618. The golden ratio is therefor 1: Ď†.
gouache An opaque, water soluble, paint, often used for illustrations and maquettes.
grissaille Monochromatic (single color) painting, shapes are defined by variations of tone, usually grey and white. This is similar, but not the same to certain kinds of trompe l'oeil.
guilloche An ornament or border of continuous, interlaced curving lines creating a series of circular voids.
gypserie A style of interior molded and sculpted gypsum plaster, used almost solely in the Provence region of France.
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half-timbered In early building, a wall constructed of timber with the spaces between the members filled With masonry (in French, colombage pierrotĂ©).
horror vacui An over-crowded, busy design, the result of a 'fear of emptiness.'
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imbrication a pattern of regular overlapping tiles or shingles, or a design that emulates this effect
impasto A painting technique where the material is applied in thick layers to wooden panels or canvas to create a textured effect.
impost A moulding, bracket, or masonry course in a wall that supports the end of an arch.
imprimatura A thin layer of colour or paint-tinted size, used to tint and/or reduce the absorbancy of the basic ground of a painting.
intaglio A technique of stylized engraving which is carved beneath the surface layer of a hard material, often stone or metal.
intarsia A type of pictoral inlaid panel simlar to marquetry, in which a main body of one species or color of wood, is cut out to receive the inlay of others to creat a pattern or dimentional image.
intonaco The last mortar layer upon which a fresco is painted.
intrados The underside or interior curve of an arch; sometimes used to describe a curved vault or soffit.
ionic column A Greek-style column topped by a single scroll just below the top.
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jerkinhead A shortened gable on a hipped roof, not uncommon in "Eastlake" Victorians. Also known as a clipped gable.
jib door A flush door, usually decorated as the wall, so as to be a hidden door.
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kamon A Japanese crest or emblem that identifies a family or company, in a manner similar to heraldry.
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label moulding A square-arched moulding above windows and doors.
lacunar a panelled or coffered ceiling or soffit; derived from the latin word lacuna meaning hollow or recess. Coffers of a ceiling are sometimes referred to as lacunaria.
lancet A narrow pointed window.
lantern A windowed superstructure at the top of a roof or dome; a small cupola.
limner An old title for a painter of ornamental decoration, or manuscript illumination. In early American history a limner was an itinerant decorator or artist. From the archaic word limn to illuminate or highlight with color or light.
linenfold Form of carved motif widely used in 15th and 16th century paneling which imitated vertical folds of drapery.
lintel A horizontal beam or stone bridging an opening, most often a door.
loggia A gallery that is open on one or more sides, often with an arcade.
loophole In military architecture, a narrow hole in a wall through which ordnance or arms can be fired.
lunette A semi-circular (half moon) shaped area, ornament, or painting;
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mandorla The almond-shaped halo or aura surrounding the head or body of a sacred figure. The shape is formed by the intersection of two circles. Italian for almond.
mansard roof A roof that has a double slope, with the lower slope steeper and longer than the upper one; a gambrel roof. Named after the seventeenth-century French architect FranĂ§ois Mansart.
maquette A small painting, sculpture, or model, created as a preparatory study for a large scale work. see also modello.
marouflage A Technique of fastening a canvas painting on to a solid support, such as a wall or ceiling, or a board.
memento mori Latin for "remember thy death" used to describe a skull (as a symbol for death) in a work of art
mimesis The imitation of life in art, refers to the concept of representing the natural world in art and literature. Greek for imitation.
modello A composition made on a reduced scale in preparation for a larger work; term commonly used in the fashion industry to describe a sample for a knitted garment. Italian for model. See also maquette
mouchette Teardrop shaped tracery design in gothic architecture
mullion A thin upright member within a window or between adjacent windows.
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nacreous Pearlescent; lustrous; resembling nacre (mother of pearl).
narthex A portico or vestibule to the west of the Nave of a church.
nave The principal room or space in a church, which accommodates the congregation.
niche A recess in a wall (interior or exterior), especially for a statue. Usually curved at the top or back.
nihonga Term coined during the Meiji period (1868-1911) for Japanese-style painting, particularly refers to polychrome paintings done with traditional dry pigments blended in a glue solution called nikawa.
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ogee A double curve, usually used to describe an arch or a moulding. Plural oggez.
oillet A loophole, the rounded area at the head of an arrow slits in the walls of medieval fortifications; also applied to the small eyelets inserted into tracery ornament, sometimes varied as trefoils or quatrefoils.
ormolu Gilt (gold-leafed) bronze sculptural elements, commonly used as decoration in the 19th century on "Empire" style furniture, lamps, and interior ornament.
ornamentalist Decorator, one who decorates using ornament; a title given to an advocate or collector of ornament, i.e. Owen Jones, Christopher Dresser, Tony Duquette...
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palimpsest A manuscript on which an earlier text has been effaced and the vellum or parchment reused for another. It was a common practice, particularly in medieval ecclesiastical circles, to rub out an earlier piece of writing by means of washing or scraping the manuscript, in order to prepare it for a new text.
palladian Related to the buildings of the sixteenth-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio, or to the eighteenth-century English revival of his style.
parapet A portion of wall that projects above a roof.
pargetting Ornamental work in plaster; also refers to a mixture with plaster used to coat walls and line chimneys.
parterre In landscape gardening, a formal area of planting, usually square or rectangular.
passementerie Ornamental trimming made of braided cord, gimp, beading, or bullion thread used in drapery and upholstery; any decorative edging, tassels, fringe, etc.
patera A flat round decoration like a shield, or rosette, in bas-relief; the ornament often used in coffers.
patina Mottled surface or sheen, either naturally occurring or simulated, which gives the look of age; verdigris; aerugo.
pavilion An articulated portion of the facade of a building, often higher than, or projecting forward from, the rest. If it is in the center, it is called a frontispiece.
pavilion An articulated portion of the facade of a building, often higher than, or projecting forward from, the rest. If it is in the centre, it is called a frontispiece.
pediment The triangular end of a gable,or a triangular ornamental element resembling it. In classical architecture, a low-pitched gable above a portico; also a similar feature above doors in homes.
pendentive The curved and sloping surfaces beneath a dome that mark the transition from the circle of the dome (or its drum) to the square of the supports.
pentimento An underlying image in a painting, as an earlier painting, or original draft, that shows through, usually when the top layer of paint has become transparent with age.
penwork A style of decoration on japanned pieces, and designed to resemble etched ivory: detailed ornamentation that is applied with pen and ink to boxes, frames, tea caddies, and furniture. The term also applies to a style of outlining in arabesque painted ornament called "kalamkari"
pergola A covered walk in a garden, usually formed by a double row of posts or pillars with joists above and covered by climbing plants.
persian flaw A small, deliberate flaw, left unrepaired by the artist: the expresson takes its meaning from the flaws intentionally woven into Persian carpets 'becasue only God can make something perfect.'
pier-and-spandrel motif A wall treatment that emphasizes the play between vertical piers and horizontal spandrels.
pigment Substances used as a coloring agent.
pilaster A shallow pier or a rectangular column projecting only slightly from a wall. Primarily decorative.
plinth A block used as the base of a column or other upright support.
polychrome Ornamented in multiple colors.
portal A monumental entranceway to a building or courtyard.
porte-corchĂ¨re A covered entrance porch for vehicles.
portico A covered porch, often consisting of columns supporting a pediment.
prostyle Characterized by free-standing columns that stand forward from a wall (contrasted with columns in antis).
purlin In timber roof construction, a secondary horizontal component parallel to the ridge and supported at each end by a rafter.
putto A very young nude boy, sometimes with wings, often seen cavorting in renaissance style works. Plural putti.
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quadratura Illusionistic decoration with architectural elements painted on walls and/or ceilings so that they appear to be an extension of the real architecture of the room into an imaginary space.
quatrefoil A decorative form characterized by four lobes.
quoins The dressed stones at the corners of buildings, usually laid so their faces are alternately large and small.
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ravelin In military architecture, an outwork composed of two faces, forming a salient angle whose gorge resembles a half-moon; often refers to any outwork near a fort.
rehaussĂ© a type of highlight created with gold leaf in trompe l'oeil work. French for "enhanced"
rerados The decorative wall or screen behind the altar.
retable In a church, a decorative wall treatment or screen behind the altar; also called a reredos.
reticulated Patterned, often in a net-like design.
rinceau A symmetrical, swirling foliate ornament.
rocaille An elaborate style of ornament characterized by curving foliate forms, often with little beads and shells, popular in 18th century rococo interiors and grottos.
rostrum and tester In a catholic church, the pulpit and overhead canopy. The canopy helps project the priest's voice to the congregation.
rustication Rough-surfaced stonework, often with beveled edges.
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sacistry In a church, a room for the storage of sacred objects and for the carrying-out of certain church activities.
sanctuary In a church, the area around the principal altar. In a synagogue, the nave.
sash In a window the wood or metal frame that holds the glass.
segmental arch An arch whose profile comprises an arc smaller than a semicircle.
seraph A celestial being having three pairs of wings. In ecclesiastical art, usually depicted as a child's head with wings.
seraphim The first of the nine orders of angels in medieval angelology, sometime portrayed as fiery serpents with wings (plural of seraph).
sfumato A painting technique using an imperceptable, subtle transition from light to dark, without any clear break or line. The theory was developed and mastered by Leonardo da Vinci, and the term derives from the Italian word fumo, meaning vapor, or smoke.
sgraffito Decorative technique in which the overland surface is harrowed or cut through, so as to form the design from the contrasting ground underneath.
singerie Decoration using monkeys in human costume, generally in humorous situations (French for "monkey trick") popular in Rococo ornamentation.
sinopia The preliminary drawing for a fresco or mural, named for the reddish-brown pigment traditionally used to draw or transfer it.
soffit The underside of an eave, beam, or other component.
solarium A glass-enclosed porch or room, often used to display flowers and other plants; also called a sunroom or garden room.
sopraporte A painted or bas-relief decorative panel set over a door, or a decorative piece that was originally intended for this purpose; Italian for overdoor.
spandrel The roughly triangular surface between two adjacent arches. or the portion of wall between the top of one window and the window sill above it
spolvero Transfer technique in which a design on transparent paper is perforated with a needle or pounce wheel, then pounced with crushed charcoal or chalk, leaving a dotted outline on the surface to be painted. also called a "pounce."
sprezzatura the art of gracefully accomplishing difficult actions with ease and elegance, as if they came naturally, without revealing the conscious effort that went into them; a nonchalant and confident style of painting
squinch The lowest voussoir at the base of an arch, where the vertical support for the arch terminates and the curve of the arch begins; the triangular feature that results from placing a dome on top of a square building, using a series of arches. Similar to a pendentive.
stanchion A vertical supporting beam.
stave An archaic construction style; the walls of a stave building are composed of logs standing upright, rather than horizontally.
stele An upright commemorative stone or sculpture, as a monument, or set into the facade of a building.
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tempera A paint material mixed with egg white, casein or glue, to create an effect of luminescence.
terra cotta Fired clay commonly shaped in a mould and frequently glazed after firing.
terrazzo A sturdy flooring finish of marble chips mixed with cement mortar. After drying, the surface is ground and polished.
terreplein In military architecture, the flat roof of a fortification, on which ordnance was mounted.
tracery The ornamental intersecting stonework in the upper part of a window, screen or panel.
transept In a church, a projecting space that is perpendicular to the nave; the nave and transepts intersect at the crossing to produce a cruciform plan.
transom Small, usually rectangular or fanlight window over a door. Some transoms open to cross-ventilate a home, while others are only decorative.
trefoil A decorative form characterized by three lobes.
treillage Ornamental trellis or latticework used to support climbing plants
triforium In a church, a passage or gallery above the nave arcade and below the clerestory.
triglyph In classical architecture, one of a series of raised ornamental panels in a Doric frieze that consist of three vertical bands; triglyphs alternate with metopes.
trompe l'oeil "Fool the eye" - something painted or otherwise presented in a way that is so realistic as to appear natural or three-dimensional.
trumeau a mirror set within a decorative, painted panel; or a similar panel placed over a window or door. The term also applies to a central pier in a doorway, sometimes decorated with sculptures.
turret A small, slender tower.
tympanum The panel, usually semicircular, located between the underside of an arch and the top of a doorway within the arch; also the triangular space enclosed by a pediment.
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ungen zaishiki Japanese for rainbow shading: A method of coloring used in painting as well as for architectural ornament in which distinct bands of color are placed next to each other giving the impression of shading.
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vanitas Latin for vanity, a painting or symbolic representation in an artwork of inevitable death, and a popular element in Baroque painitngs. Common symbols include skulls, candle stubs, over-bloomed flowers, oveturned goblets, hourglasses, etc., which symbolize the vain or pointless ambitions in life. (see also memento mori).
vault An arched ceiling constructed of masonry materials; the undersurface, or soffit, is usually curved. If the vault is generated from a series of pointed, rather than round, arches, it is called a groin vault
veneer A very thin layer used as a facing.
vitruvian wave A series of scrolls connected by a wave-like band; also called a wave scroll, or a Greek wave; common motif in classical ornament.
volute In classical architecture, the spiral ornament on a capital.
voussoir One of the wedge-shaped masonry blocks out of which an arch or vault is composed. The central voussoir is the keystone.
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wainscoting Decorative paneling covering the lower 3-4 feet of an interior wall.
waterleaf A carved design for column capitals of simple sinuous foliate designs, similar to acanthus.
weeping mortar This decorative mortar appears to "drip" out between the exterior bricks in a home.
whorl A round, spinning motif, like a pinwheel
widow's walk A small, railed observation platform atop a house.
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