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Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 2.djvu/394

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BAS-RELIEF


342


BAS-RELIEF


(It. for hollow relief; Fr., reliej-en-creux) is a method of concave sculpture in which the highest part or outline is on a level with the surface, while the roundness is considerably below it. Cavo-rilievo was practised chiefly by the Egj'ptians whose hollow reliefs are kno^«i by the Greek term Koilanaglyphs. Relief is the form of sculpture that comes nearest to painting, both having composition, perspective, and the play of light and shadow. Relief would seem to have much in common with drawing, though in reality less importance attaches to line than to the modelling of contour and to the true and effective rendering of chiaroscuro. The human form is un- doubtedly the proper object of relief, which appears to be particularly suited to the representation of numerous figures in action. In the Greek and Roman classic reliefs these figures are usually in processional order, engaged in historic or military events, or in the ceremonial of worship. Relief is


existed before the introduction of sculpture in the round, or when only rude figures of the deities had been attempted. The Babylonians, Assyrians, and Hittites practised it contemporaneously with sculp- ture in the round. The Egyptians, though they em- ployed a kind of low relief, especially on the interiors of buildings, made a still greater use of Koilanaglyphs. The Greeks, conceiving relief sculpture in its purely plastic sense, achieved the greatest masterj' of the art. With them it was u.sed both as an ornament and as an integral part of the plan when allied with architecture. Distinguishing strictly between high and low relief, they used the former between the triglyphs, and in the tympana of the temples, and the latter in friezes, tombstones, etc. Certain fixed principles governed the Greek relief: the spaces were adequately filled, the backgrounds never carved, and it was a rule that all heads should be at the same height from the base, whether the figures sat, rode, or stood {Iso-


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The Annunciation, Andrea Della Robbia. Hospital of the Innocents, Florence


well suited, also, to the portrayal of series of scenes, as in the bronze doors of various Italian baptisteries illustrating the Old and the New Testament. Fig- ures and objects in relief are generally worked out in the same material as the background, though there are exceptions to this rule in Greek art, and in the decorative work of the Chinese and Japanese. In the larger reliefs marble, bronze, and terra-cotta are used exclusively; while in smaller works the precious metals and stones, ivory, stucco, enamel, wood, etc., predominate. The rehefs of the Egyptians and Assyrians, not highly plastic, were made more effective by the introduction of strong colours. The early Greeks also made use of polychroray, as in- stanced in the metope relief in the Museum of Palermo. In Gothic art and in the Renaissance it was the custom to tint wood, terra-cotta, and stucco, but not marble or stone. Relief is one of the earliest forms of sculpture practised, and probably originated with the stone-cutters of prehistoric days, though cLay and wood are supposed to have been the earliest materials employed, owing to greater facility in moulding and carving them. There is reason to believe that relief sculpture


kephaleia). In the Hellenistic period a more pic- turesque and dramatic form of composition prevailed, and the backgroimds were carved in pictorial style. With the Etruscans relief was applied mainly in the artistic handicrafts. In Rome it frequently de- generated into a pictorial mode in which several planes were employed, but examples are still extant that are highly classic, e. g. the groups of the Arch of Titus, the continuous winding reliefs of tlie ColuniD of Trajan, imperial sarcophagi (in the Vatican), and reliefs of the Capitol Museum, Rome. The Romans no doubt owed their finest reliefs to the Greek artists they harboured and employed upon themes taken from the history of Rome.

The Christian Era inaugvirated what might be mis- taken for a new art, but the change was in subject more than in mode, for all the early examples show a great similarity to antique models in form, pose, and drapery. Christian relief appears mainly in the sarcophagi with their Biblical, Apostohc, or symbolic subjects: Daniel in the lions' den, Moses striking water from the rock, the adoration of the Magi, the raising of Lazarus, the Good Shepherd. Heathen mytlis are also used, invested with a new signifi-