bas-re·​lief | \ ˌbä-ri-ˈlēf How to pronounce bas-relief (audio) , ˌbas-, ˌbās-; ˈbä-ri-ˌlēf, ˈbas-, ˈbās- \

Definition of bas-relief

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

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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.

First Known Use of bas-relief

1667, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for bas-relief

French, from bas low + relief raised work

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The first known use of bas-relief was in 1667

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Last Updated

14 Dec 2021

Cite this Entry

“Bas-relief.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for bas-relief



English Language Learners Definition of bas-relief

: a kind of sculpture in which shapes are carved so that they are only slightly higher than the flat background

More from Merriam-Webster on bas-relief

Nglish: Translation of bas-relief for Spanish Speakers


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