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.

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web 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 In 1993, though, Augusta National embraced the idea of a replica trophy and abandoned the cigarette boxes and bas-reliefs. Alan Blinder Doug Mills, New York Times, 8 Apr. 2023 Dated to around 50 B.C.E., the bas-relief depicts the 12 constellations of the zodiac, five planets, and both a lunar and solar eclipse. Christopher Parker, Smithsonian Magazine, 4 Apr. 2023 These people were the unwitting models for his bas-relief sculpture of a Black Jesus breaking bread with 12 Black apostles. John Kelly, Washington Post, 2 Apr. 2023 There are also gorgeous floral bas-reliefs adorning the walls. Demetrius Simms, Robb Report, 1 Apr. 2023 There are bas-reliefs at an Angkor temple in Cambodia depicting a 12th-century naval battle between the two sides. Michelle Jana Chan, Condé Nast Traveler, 14 Feb. 2023 See More

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 1 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


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

More from Merriam-Webster on bas-relief

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