Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day for September 8, 2019 is:

bas-relief • bah-rih-LEEF  • noun

art : sculptural relief in which the projection from the surrounding surface is slight and no part of the modeled form is undercut; also : sculpture executed in bas-relief


“Three [works] that caught my eye were Maksymowicz’s solemn plaster bas-relief of bones and tools, Gina Michaels’ bronze sculpture of a prickly pear cactus with pads in the shapes of human feet, and Burnell Yow’s totemic found-object sculpture topped with an animal skull.” — Edith Newhall, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 18 July 2019

“Lorraine Hansberry’s 60-year-old American classic about a black family in Chicago’s South Side in the 1950s that has a shot at the American dream is given a volatile production that, like a bas-relief, brings out details and layers that have not been so clearly defined in more traditional approaches.” — The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, Massachusetts), 5 July 2019

Did you know?

The best way to understand the meaning of bas-relief is to see one—and the easiest way to do that is to look at a penny, nickel, or other coin and examine the raised images on it; they’re all bas-reliefs. English speakers adopted bas-relief from French (where bas means “low” and relief means “raised work”) during the mid-1600s; earlier, we borrowed the synonymous basso-relievo from Italian. The French and Italian terms have common ancestors (and, in fact, the French word is likely a translation of the Italian), but English speakers apparently borrowed the two independently. Bas-relief is more prevalent in English today, although the Italian-derived term has not disappeared completely from the language.


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