Relief (Figure) - Encyclopedia

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RELIEF, a term in sculpture signifying ornament, a figure or figures raised from the ground of a flat surface of which the sculptured portion forms an inherent part of the body of the whole. The design maybe in high relief - "alto-relievo"(q.v.), or low relief - "bas-relief" or "basso-relievo" (q.v.); in the former case the design is almost wholly detached from the ground, the attachment, through "under-cutting," remaining only here and there; in the latter it is wholly attached and may scarcely rise above the surface (as in the modern medal), or it may exceed in projection to about a half the proportionate depth (or thickness) of the figure or object represented. Formerly three terms were commonly employed to express the degree of relief - altorelievo, basso-relievo and mezzo-relievo (or half-relief); but the two last-named have been merged by modern custom into. "low-relief," to the disadvantage of accurate description. The term relief belongs to modern sculpture. To low relief as understood by us Pliny applied the word anaglypta, but it is to be observed that embossing and chasing came within the samecategory. It may be considered that less sculptural skill (independently of manipulative skill) is needed in high relief than in low relief, because in the former the true relative proportions in the life (whether figure or other object) have to be rendered, while in the latter, although the true height and,. in a measure, breadth can be given, the thickness of the object is reduced by at least one-half, sometimes to almost nothing;. and yet in spite of this departure from actuality, this abandonment of fact for a pure convention, a true effect must still be produced, not only in respect to perspective, but also of the actual shadows cast. And insomuch as the compositions are often extremely complicated and have sometimes to suggest retreating planes, the true plane of the material affords little scope for reproducing the required effect. In the beginning. the essential idea of the relief was always maintained: that is to say, the sense of the flatness of the slab from which it was cut was impressed throughout the design on the mind of the spectator. Thus the Egyptians merely sunk the outlines and scarcely more than suggested the modelling of the figures, which never projected beyond the face of the surrounding ground. The Persians, the Etruscans and the Greeks carried on the art to the highest perfection, alike in sculpture and architectural ornament, and they applied it to gem sculpture, as in the case of "cameo." Similarly, the inverse treatment of relief - that is, sunk below the surface, in order that when used for seals a true relief is obtained - was early brought to great completeness; this form of engraving is called "intaglio." The degree of projection in relief, broadly speaking, has varied greatly with the periods of art. Thus, in Byzantine and Romanesque art the relief was low. In Gothic it increased with the increased desire to render several planes one behind the other. With the advent of the Renaissance it became still more accentuated, the heads and figures projecting greatly; but such high relief is sometimes found in early work, especially in metal-work. Although we see a return to lower relief in the Henri II. period, it becomes stronger in the Louis. XIII. style, very full in Louis XIV. and Louis XV., but in Louis XVI. is considerably reduced. (M. H. S.)

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