Last edited 09 Dec 2021



A bas-relief is a form of sculpture that is carved from a flat two-dimensional plane creating a three-dimensional appearance. The backgrounds are kept shallow from the raised features, usually between a fraction of an inch to a few inches deep. It was predominately used as a decorative feature in the ancient architecture of countries such as Egypt, Greece and Italy.

The term is French and is derived from the Italian basso-relievo (‘low relief’).

A bas-relief is created in one of two ways:

  • By carving away material such as wood, stone, ivory, and so on.
  • By applying material, such as strips of clay, to the top of an otherwise smooth surface.

The natural contours and shape of that being represented should be retained, which means that the bas-relief can be viewed from different angles without undue visual distortion.

Alto-relievo (high relief) is where the technique is applied to much deeper backgrounds, usually of between a foot and several feet in depth.

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