Architectural and Venetian Terms


aedicule      the framing of a door, window or other opening with columns or pilasters supporting an

                    entablature or pediment


albergo      originally the whole building of a Venetian scuola; later restricted to the small meeting room

                    on the upper floor


all’antica     “in the ancient manner”


altana          wooden platform on the roof of a Venetian home


androne      large hall on the ground floor of a Venetian palace or scuola


apse             a vaulted semicircular or polygonal recess, usually at the end of a chancel or chapel


atrium          originally the inner, open-air court of a Roman house; later a covered entrance hall


baldachin, baldacchino a canopy carried in processions or placed over the altar to honor the thing or

                     person beneath; also, a permanent architectural structure made in the form of such a



balustrade   a row of short pillars topped by a railing, for example, surrounding a balcony


baptistery    a chapel in or near a church, where baptisms are carried out


Baroque      style of art and architecture (after Mannerism), characterized by ornate

                     detail, drama, movement, and heightened emotion. Think Bernini.


barrel vault (also called a tunnel vault) a continuous semicircular vaulted roof

                     basilica the most characteristic form of church design in the Middle Ages, adapted from the

                     large public building type of the same name that housed civic and legal procedures. A

                     basilica is normally rectangular in plan, with a central nave, divided by rows of columns or

                     arches from side aisles.


basket capital a capital decorated with drilled carving to resemble a wicker basket or lacework;

                     typical of Byzantine tradition


bastion        a projection at the angle of a fortification, from which the adjoining walls can be defended

                     by covering fire


bay              the division of a wall between two columns, piers or buttresses


biforate window a window divided vertically by a column to form two separate, arched openings


blind arcade a purely decorative arcade attached to a wall surface


bugnato       a kind of smooth yet bold rustication


buttress       in architecture, a segment of arch or heavy pier erected on the exterior of a building to

                     counter the lateral thrust of a tall vault or dome


calle             in Venice, a narrow street or alley


campanile   bell tower


campo         (literally a field) the open space of a Venetian parish


capital          the top of a column or pillar


casa fondaco a characteristic type of early Veneto-Byzantine merchant’s family palace, with two

                      superimposed waterfront arcades flanked by corner blocks or towers


casemate     a vaulted room within the walls of a fortress, with openings for firing and lookout


chancel        section at the east end of a church containing the main altar and reserved for the clergy 


chiaroscuro literally means “light-dark”, referring to handling of light and shadow contrasts in painting to

                      achieve modeling or atmosphere


choir             the sacred precinct of a church, often separated by steps, a rail, or a screen, from the main

                      public congregation. In churches attached to religious houses the monks or nuns usually

                      assembled for Mass here. 


ciborium: a permanent canopy over an alter, denoting a place of importance. 


Cinquecento the 1500s


classical       pertaining to ancient Greek and Roman culture


clerestory     in church architecture, a zone with windows on the upper part of a wall


Composite    one of the orders of classical architecture, combining features of the Ionic, Corinthian



coffer             in architecture, a module in a wooden ceiling or concrete, defined by a recessed square

                       panel. Originally in ancient Roman architecture, coffering served to lighten the weight of

                       the vault; Renaissance coffering was primarily decorative 


colonette       slender column enjoyed especially in Gothic architecture


column          the basic unit of classical architecture; made up of a shaft+capital


comune         translated as “commonwealth”, referring to a city’s type of government


commensuration “measuring together” ; the principle of carrying consistent proportions through a large

                       architectural design or across a representation in perspective


concetto        conceit. In art and architecture, the idea behind a composition


condottiere    the leader of a mercenary group of soldiers


confraternity religious organization for lay people, usually devoted to a saint, which assembled for

                       prayer and for the organization of charitable works


contrapposto referring to the juxtaposition of opposites. In Renaissance art, placing near objects next to

                        far objectes, light next to dark, was a basic compositional technique. It is also used to

                        describe weight shift in a figure of a stature. 


corbel            a block projecting from a wall and supporting a beam or the base of an arch


Corinthian      one of the five orders of classical architecture, characterized by a capital decorated with

                        acanthus leaf ornament


cornice          the projecting section at the top of an entablature


crenellation   defensive rooftop parapet with alternating raised elements and spaces


crocket          carved ornament, usually leaf shaped, projecting from the sides of a Gothic pinnacle


crossing        place where transept arms and nave meet in a cruciform church plan; usually topped by a



cruciform      in the form of a cross; referring to the ground plan of a church


cupola           a dome


cusp              the point at the meeting of two curves, especially in Gothic tracery


dentilled molding a row of square blocks decorating the underside of a cornice


diaper pattern type of wall decoration composed of adjoining diamond shapes


dog-tooth molding a type of zigzag carved stone ornament found in Byzantine and Romanesque



doge               roughly translated to “duke”; the leader of the Republic of Venice 


dome              a convex ceiling; can rest on cylindrical or polyganol drum or pendentives; 


Doric              one of the classical orders, characterized by a simple capital, its frieze generally

                       decorated with triglyphs and metopes


duomo           cathedral


embossed     adorned with a raised abstract pattern


entablature    in classical architecture, a series of horizontal elements supported by columns. Each

                       classical order has a characteristic set of entablature forms


Etruscan        pertaining to the ancient civilization that dominated Italy before the rise of Rome


exedra            a curved or rectangular recess in a wall surface


extrados        the upper curve of an arch


famiglia        referring to extended household


faubourg       suburb or quarter outside the walls of a medieval city

                      fluting decorative vertical grooves incised in a column or pilaster


fondaco        in Venice a trading post or foreign merchants’ center, see casa fondaco


fondamenta a waterside street or quay in Venice


foreshortening abbreviating the lines or forms that represent such an elements as a body to create the

                           illusion that it projects outwards towards the viewer


four-light window a window consisting of four adjoining upright arched sections


fresco              technique of mural painting where paint is applied to wet or “fresh” plaster, as distinct

                         from painting on dry plaster, “secco”


frieze               horizontal band, either plain or decorated, along the center of an entablature


Greek cross   a cross with all four arms of equal length


Gothic             a term applied in the 18th century to describe architecture characterized by pointed

                        arches, flying buttresses, rib vaults.


groin vault      the intersection of two perpendicular barrel-vaults


guild               an organization representing and regulating a particular trade or profession. A guild

                       licensed the training and certification of professionals, determined who had the right to

                       practice, and supervised its members


humanist       a scholar of classical languages and culture; by the late 15th century humanism        

                       designated the study of studia humanitatis, comprising poetry, rhetoric, history,            

                       philosophy, and all fields covered by the classical authorities


iconostasis   a screen in Byzantine churches, separating the chancel from the nave


intarsia         decorative wood inlay


intrados        the inner rim of an arch


Ionic              one of the classical orders, with its capital decorated by volutes


Istrian stone white marble from the region of Istria near Trieste in the eastern Veneto


jamb              the lateral, vertical part of a doorway


keystone       the central wedge-shaped stone in an arch; the keystone acts as a lock holding the other

                      stones of the arch together


lancet            a slender, pointed-arched window


lantern          architectural element surmounting a dome; the weight of the lantern allowed it to serve the

                      structural function of a keystone though the word refers to the fact that it was through the

                      lantern that light entered the building interior below


lintel             a horizontal beam or stone, bridging the top of a door or window opening


loggia          an open arcade, usually on the lower story of a building, sometimes on the piano nobile


lunette         semicircular window or area of wall surface


machicolation a projecting gallery round the top of a medieval fortification, from which things could be

                     dropped on invaders


Mendicant orders priestly orders founded in the 13th century committed to communal living in an urban

                     setting and an active ministry of preaching. Franciscans, Dominicans. 


metope         the square space between two triglyphs in a Doric frieze, often decorated with relief



mezzanine a low story between two higher ones


narthex         separate section at the west end of the nave of an early Christian or Byzantine church


nave              the main space of a church, on the axis with the high altar


NeoPalladian 18th century British revival of the architecture style of Andrea 

                      Palladio (1508-1580), particularly his villa designs


nymphaeum cave of the nymphs, the presiding deities of springs, a word loosely applied 

                      to Renaissance fountains and grottoes


oculus         “eye”; round window


ogee arch    a type of Gothic arch in which the convex curves become concave towards the top of the



Orders         a system of architectural forms consisting of a vertical element (column) and horizontal

                     element (entablature), each with distinctive conventionalized proportions and sets of parts.

                     Doric, Ionic, Corinthian.   Tuscan and Composite.


orthogonal in perspective, a line notionally perpendicular to the picture plane that appears to converge

                      at the vanishing point


Palladian motif  or Serliana: window motif invented by Bramante, employed by Raphael, 

                      popularized by Serlio in his treatise, and widely used by Palladio in his 

                      buildings, generally called a Palladian motif


Papal States the central Italian territories directly subject to the Pope in central Italy


pastellon       a kind of Venetian flooring, composed of ground terracotta bricks and tiles set in mortar

                       and then polished


pediment      in architecture, a triangular element placed over the main façade


pendentive   the curved triangular area of wall surface above each pair of arches supporting a dome


perspective  technique for creating an illusionistic space on a 2-dimensional picture plane


piano nobile “noble floor”; the second story of an Italian palace, often given specialized architectural

                       details; place for reception of important guests


pianterreno   the ground floor of an Italian building


piazza            a large open urban area, typically adjacent to an important civic building, a church, or the

                       palace of a powerful family


pier                a non-columnar vertical support, can be square or round, supports a heavy load


pilaster         “flattened” column  applied as relief to a wall


piscina          an open space or street in Venice formerly occupied by water


portego         the Venetian word for portico, also used to describe the large central hall of the living

                      storeys of Venetian palaces


portico          a columned porch


proto             the architect in charge of the upkeep and construction of the buildings and other real

                      estate property belonging to a Venetian institution or public body


quatrefoil      “four leaf”; a decorative form often used for framing in Gothic art


Quattrocento  the 1400s


quoin              stone blocks forming the corner of  a building


Renaissance  revival, or “rebirth” of classical learning (art, architecture, literature, etc.)

                        that marked the transition from medieval to modern times. 


retrochoir       choir placed behind the high altar of a church


rib                   a raised molding defining and dividing the segments of a vault or dome


rio                   a Venetian canal


rio terà           a street in Venice formed by filling in a canal


riva                 quayside street in Venice, literally the ‘bank’ of a waterway


roundel          decoration that takes a circular/round form


rustication    in architecture, effect of leaving stone blocks rough, unfinished


sacristy          a room in a church used for storing vestments and liturgical objects


sail vault        dome or vault shaped like a sail over a square plan, merging with the pendentives at the



scriptorium   a room in a convent or monastery devoted to writing and preparation of manuscripts


Serliana         a tripartite window or door consisting of an arched central opening flanked by vertical

                       rectangular openings. Named after architect Sebastiano Serlio who popularized it in his

                       architectural treatise. Ancient in origin. Also called a “Palladian motif”


ship’s-keel ceiling the wooden ceiling of a church or large meeting hall which in form and construction

                        resembles an upturned ship


six-light window window consisting of six adjoining upright arched sections


sottoportego in Venice, a portion of a street, usually arcaded on one side, passing underneath a



spandrel       the section of wall directly over the curve of an arch


spoglia         “to strip”, an architectural element removed from its original location and placed on another


stilted arch    an arch with vertical extensions (‘stilts’) between the capitals and the springing of an arch


string course in architecture, a narrow, continuous horizontal molding running the length of a façade


stucco            plaster made from lime, sand and water, used to fashion sculptural architectural elements

                        and cover walls


squinch          an arch across an angle to support a superstructure such as a dome


terrazzo         a type of Venetian flooring consisting of small colored stones set in mortar, with a highly

                       polished surface


tessera          cube of colored stone or glass used to make mosaics


thermal window a large lunette-shaped window divided into three sections by two vertical supports



tondo             a circular window or decorative panel


traghetto       gondola ferry in Venice


tracery         decorative interlaced stone moldings or framing elements for stained glass, characteristic

                      of Gothic architecture


transept       short arms of the Latin cross plan


trefoil           a type of Gothic tracery in the form of a three-lobed leaf or flower


triglyphs      blocks with vertical grooves, alternating with the metopes in a Doric frieze


vault             a curved ceiling


villa              a country estate, often associated with agricultural activities as well as

                    “intellectual” leisure. 


volute          a scroll-like form in classical architecture, epecially in the Ionic capital


Zattere         literally ‘rafts’, the name given to the southern shores of Venice where rafts were moored