bas-re·​lief ˌbä-ri-ˈlēf How to pronounce bas-relief (audio)
art : sculptural relief (see relief entry 1 sense 6) in which the projection from the surrounding surface is slight and no part of the modeled form is undercut (see undercut entry 1 sense 2)
also : sculpture executed in bas-relief
a limestone bas-relief of a female figure

Illustration of bas-relief

Illustration of bas-relief

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.

Examples of bas-relief in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The Bonwit Teller building included several architecturally significant Art Deco embellishments, including two bas-relief sculptures that Trump offered to donate to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Julie Satow, Peoplemag, 31 May 2024 The bas-relief figures at the entrance indicated the type of sports to be seen at the Gardens: boxing, basketball and hockey. Jeff Suess, The Enquirer, 25 Feb. 2024 The exhibition spotlights a series of 10 bas-relief paintings (one of which has been loaned to the Aldrich) charting the cervix dilating from 1 cm to 10 cm, the kinds of measurements tracked during a vaginal birth. Stephanie Sporn, Vogue, 8 Feb. 2024 Art lovers will enjoy restored pieces and bas-relief murals by New Orleans sculptor Angela Gregory, to which the hotel's elegant restaurant The Gregory pays homage. Kelsey Ogletree, Southern Living, 25 Sep. 2023 His father, who fought as an artillery officer in the French Army during World War I, was an orthodontist and a sculptor of bronze bas-relief portraits. Richard Sandomir, New York Times, 17 Aug. 2023 Responding to Wright’s evocation of the four elements in the living room — and the room’s expansive view stretching to the Pacific — Silverman adds foraged clay, seaweed, salt, driftwood and shells to the glazes of his ceramics, two of which flank Wright’s famous concrete bas-relief hearth. Andrea Richards, Los Angeles Times, 14 June 2023 See one fan-pleated silk dress with winged sleeves that simultaneously suggests the body while framing it like a bas-relief. Vanessa Friedman, New York Times, 1 June 2023 Brook, 78, is an artist and sculptor who, at her own expense, is creating busts and bronze bas-reliefs of the faces of American activists. Diane Bell, San Diego Union-Tribune, 29 Apr. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'bas-relief.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


French, from bas low + relief raised work

First Known Use

1667, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of bas-relief was in 1667


Dictionary Entries Near bas-relief

Cite this Entry

“Bas-relief.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


: a sculpture in which the design is raised very slightly from the background

More from Merriam-Webster on bas-relief

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!