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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.

acheiropoieton  "made without hand" ((Medieval Greek: ἀχειροποίητα) Christian icons which are said to have come into existence miraculously, not created by a human.

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

antependium  a decorative piece, usually of textile, but also metalwork, stone or other material that can hang in front of a Christian altar, lectern, or pulpit.

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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étocs  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.

cangiante  a technique of painting invented by Giotto, to model volume by using pure colours, creating the effect of irridescent fabric.

cangiantismo  iridescent effect of painting fabric shadows a differnt color, as in Michelangelo's revival of the "cangiante" technique.

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.

champlevé  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 "œil 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.

churrigueresque  relating to elaborate stucco decoration of the Spanish baroque architectural style, often seen in California Spainish Revival architecture

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 champlevé.

dentil  A small, tooth-like square block, used in a row as a decorative feature in a cornice.

di sotto in sù  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.

fasces  Latin for 'bundle' that has its origin in the Etruscan civilization and was adopted by the Romans. A bundle of rods held together by leather bindings, to symbolize per unitatem vis.

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.

flèche  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.

gammadia  symbols that sometimes appear on the robes of saints and clerics in early religious art, often made up of combinations of the letter gamma in various orientations. The intentions or meaning of these symbols is unknown.

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 φ (phi) whose value is approximately 1.618. The golden ratio is therefor 1: φ.

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 pierroté).

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 François 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.

mocárabe  in Iberian architecture, a form of ornamented vaulting in Islamic buildings. Also known as Muqarnas, honeycomb vaulting

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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palanquin  a portable bed or seat, open or enclosed, that is mounted on two poles and carried at each end on the shoulders of porters. See also "lectica"

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-corchère  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.

rehaussé  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.

stylite  or a "pillar-saint" is a type of Christian ascetic who live on pillars, preaching, fasting and praying.

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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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A compilation of odd words
I've collected along the way, for those hard to describe areas or just interesting terms unique to the world of an ornamentalist. Who needs a laser pointer, when you know the proper term for that bit of wall between your arched windows, or the spandrel.

I dedicated this glossary to a great teacher Dr.Otto Mower who used words like this all the time; and to the memory of my mentor and friend Larry Boyce, itinerant stenciler; solitary cyclist; apostle of conventionalized design.

If you are looking for a more comprehensive list of architectural terms, see the list of links at the bottom of the page.