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Archivo:Banteay Srei in Angkor.jpg

A bas-relief at Banteay Srei in Cambodia depicts Ravana shaking Mount Kailasa, the residence of Siva.

A Bas-relief (Plantilla:Pronounced, French for "low relief", derived from the Italian basso rilievo) or low relief is a sculpture which is not free-standing or in the round, but has a background from which the main elements of the composition project. Bas-relief is very suitable for scenes with many figures and other elements such as a landscape or architectural background. A bas-relief may use any medium or technique of sculpture, but stone carving and metal casting are the traditional ones. If more than 50% of most rounded or cylindrical elements such as heads and legs project from the background, a sculpture is usually considered to be "alto rilievo" or "high relief", although the degree of relief within both types may vary across a composition, with prominent features such as faces in higher relief.

The advantage of the natural contour of the figures allows the work to be viewed from many angles without distortion of the figures themselves, but the background depth is only suggested. There is a continuum of the bas-relief technique into the next category, alto-relievo, or high relief.

Composite works[]

Occasionally, free standing sculptures are set in front of a relief sculpture to deepen the scene. Only those figures that are supported by attachment to the vertical stone background are considered to be part of the "relief". Foreground sculptures may be part of the final "grouping", but not of the "relief".


Bas relief has existed in all civilizations creating stone sculpture from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, and China, to classical, Middle Ages, and Renaissance periods in Europe. A world-wide use of this and the "alto" technique in public or political sculpture exists throughout the modern world. The Elgin marbles are a prime example of this form of art, and Stone Mountain is the world's largest bas-relief.

  • Europe
Prehistoric examples of bas-reliefs can be found with other kinds of art in the caves of Europe. The method used here was to etch the shape of an animal or other form around the natural features of the rock surface creating three-dimensional sculptures that stand out in natural light. The world's most extensive collection of paleolithic bas-reliefs was found in Creswell Crags, UK in 2003; this cave art has been dated at almost 13,000 years old.
  • Egypt
Mostly used sunken relief, where the figures are cut into the stone, rather than the stone being cut away to reveal them. It is thought to have existed before sculptures that are in the round. This form of art has coexisted with full round sculpture since ancient Egypt. The Egyptians used relief sculptures to decorate the interiors of their buildings.


  • India
Descent of the Ganges at Mahabalipuram is a giant open air monolithic bas-relief dating to the 7th century and is in the group of monuments designated a World Heritage Site.
  • Greece
The Greeks achieved the greatest mastery of this form of art. They used the bas-relief sculptures as an ornamental and integral way to decorate buildings. They used friezes and sculptures as backgrounds for the interior and exterior walls. Many of their sculptures were models of the Greek gods.
  • Persia
Bas-relief stone carvings of Persepolis, built during the Achaemenid Empire, are among the works of this art.
  • Rome
The Romans owe some of their relief sculptures to the Greek artists they employed.
  • Christian
The Christian relief were mainly used on sarcophagi to depict religious and symbolic subjects. Relief was also used in Christian art to recreate scenes from the Old and the New Testament; some of the scenes include Daniel in the lions' den and Moses striking water from the rock.

Rilievo schiacciato[]

A term, meaning "squashed" or "flattened" relief in Italian, for a very low type of relief, generally accepted to be an invention of Donatello when used for a whole composition, although it was used early in the backgrounds of conventional bas-reliefs.

In architecture[]

It is most commonly used for the architectural adornment of building surfaces, both inside and outside, where the stone is part of the building, rather than as a free-standing piece of art to be hung on a wall. Sometimes the resulting image has been painted, and other times it has been left in the natural state of the material used. Bas-relief should not be confused with an etching, as the latter requires cutting into a flat surface, leaving indentations within the flat surface, which becomes suitable for printing by applying ink and pressing paper to the surface.

3D Gallery[]

These images are designed to appear in 3d with the use of colored glasses, and may not appear correctly without them.

See also[]

  • Alto-relievo
  • Relief
  • Sunken-relief
  • 2.5D (machining)
  • 2.5D

External links[]

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