The meaning of words related to the art of painting.

Painting, woodcut or sculpture behind the altar in a church or chapel. Usually part of the retable. It often consists of more than one panel: three (triptych) or more (polyptych).
Famous altarpieces: Matthias Grünewald's Isenheim Altar, and the Ghent Altarpiece by the Van Eyck brothers.
book of hours
Also known as 'primer' or 'horae', a Book of Hours would contain a collection of prayers, psalms, scriptural excerpts and devotional texts intended for the use at home. Horae are organised around the canonical hours of the Catholic Church, hence the name. Often illuminated in silver and gold leaf, horae were a must-have for the wealthy. An absolute bestseller from the late 14th to the late 16th century. More information.
Support made for acrylic and oil paintings, made from linen or cotton and stretched tightly over a wooden frame. Linen is a cloth material made from flax and far superior to cotton for paintings.
Full-size model for a work of art, mostly used for frescoes, mosaics, stained-glass windows and draperies. The artist would draw or paint a sketch on the cartoon, usually paper. He himself or someone else would then transfer the design onto the definitive location. Famous cartoons are the ones Raphael created for the draperies in the Sistine Chapel, for example this one.
(in French: clair-obscur) A technique using the contrast between a painting's light and dark parts for dramatic effect. In addition, clair-obscur creates an illusion of depth in a flat canvas.
Caravaggio and Rembrandt often used this technique.
A technique for painting on walls, made popular during the Italian Renaissance. Frescoes are made by painting pigmented water onto a layer of wet plaster. As the plaster dries, the pigments are absorbed into the material, thus increasing the painting's life.
The artist would often make a charcoal sketch of the painting on the wall before the plaster was applied, as the pigments had to be painted on quickly, leaving little time for change or correction. Perhaps the most famous frescoes are the ones by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
A painting in monochrome, i.e. without any prominent colors. Grey and brown are the most used colors for these paintings. Grisailles were often made on the reverse side of the outer panels of triptychs in churches. Such triptychs, often altarpieces, were usually closed during most of the week. The grisailles would make the triptych look like a sculpture.
history painting
A genre in painting in which a story is depicted, contrary to other paintings such as portraits, landscapes and still lifes. Subjects vary from truly historical to episodes from Greek mythology and from the Bible.
Usually an image of Jesus or one or more saints. Popular in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, where icons are seen as bringers of the true message comparable to the gospels. The production of icons is strongly restricted by rules, making icon art less free than other Western Biblical art. Icons are painted on wooden panels. The background is often a layer of gold leaf. The artists traditionally used tempera for paint, but by the end of the 18th century oil came into use.
(also: miniature) Illustration or decoration, usually alongside the text. The illumination of manuscripts reached its peak in the Middle Ages when masters like the Van Limburg brothers and the Azor masters were active. Illuminations range from decorated initials through series of coherent images. See also book of hours.
Technique where paint is applied very thickly onto the canvas, effecting a relief. Impasto is often used to depict images of rough walls or fabrics.
Picture of the Virgin Mary with the Baby Jesus. Very popular at the end of the Middle Ages.
oil paint
Paint made of a slowly drying oil with added colour pigments. The time required by oil paint to dry gives the artist the opportunity to correct or change his work. Oil paint came to be used widely in the 17th century, when it replaced tempera. Linseed oil, extracted from flax seed, is commonly used as carrier.
Wooden base for a painting. A group of panels can be a diptych (two panels), triptych (three), polyptych (more than three).
A picture or sculpture of Mary with her dead son on her lap. Best known is Michelangelo's pietà.
Pedestal or lower part of a retable.
Rear part of an altar, often richly decorated, for instance with an altarpiece. In English the word is also used for the shelf behind the altar where liturgical objects are placed.
Paint made using yolk or white of egg as carrier, mixed with pigment. Water-soluble. Used widely before the introduction of oil paint.
Circle-shaped work of art. Roundel. The word is derived from the Italian word rotondo.
Painting containing an optical illusion or serving as an illusion itself, suggesting that it is something else, e.g. a door or a window. Jan van Eyck's John the Evangelist is an example. See also grisaille.