Bas Relief

This is a sculpture style where the art is mostly two-dimensional (meaning, it could be hung on a wall), but the foreground is raised slightly from the background. The design is carved into a substance.

“Relief” originally meant “raised,” and “bas” means “low” in French, so the art is literally “raised from a lower area.”

Why I Looked It Up

I sort of remember this from grade school art class, but the exactly meaning of the name has always eluded me.

In H.P. Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulhu, a bas relief is a plot point – it’s the first depiction of the titular monster.

The bas-relief was a rough rectangle less than an inch thick and about five by six inches in area; obviously of modern origin. Its designs, however, were far from modern in atmosphere and suggestion; for although the vagaries of cubism and futurism are many and wild, they do not often reproduce that cryptic regularity which lurks in prehistoric writing. And writing of some kind the bulk of these designs seemed certainly to be; though my memory, despite much familiarity with the papers and collections of my uncle, failed in any way to identify this particular species, or even to hint at its remotest affiliations.

Above these apparent hieroglyphics was a figure of evidently pictorial intent, though its impressionistic execution forbade a very clear idea of its nature. It seemed to be a sort of monster, or symbol representing a monster, of a form which only a diseased fancy could conceive. If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature, I shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings; but it was the general outline of the whole which made it most shockingly frightful. Behind the figure was a vague suggestion of a Cyclopean architectural background.

Note the hyphenation, which I didn’t find anywhere else.

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