Bas relief or “low relief” is a sculpture technique in which figures or other design elements are carved on a flat surface so that the carving barely protrudes from the surface, like on a coin. The main difference between high relief and low relief is that in low relief, the figures are only slightly raised from the background, while in high relief they are significantly higher.
Some of the earliest examples of bas relief can be found in Mesopotamian art from the 3rd millennium BCE. In ancient Egyptian art, carved images were often placed on tomb walls to help guide the deceased in the afterlife. The Greek Parthenon Frieze and the Roman Ara Pacis are well-known examples of bas relief sculptures.
In the Middle Ages, bas relief was often used to decorate architectural features such as capitals and tympana. Gothic tracery and other ornamental details were often carved in low relief. Many altars and reliquaries from this period are decorated with bas relief sculptures.
Bas relief continued to be popular in the Renaissance and Baroque periods, particularly for portrait busts and tomb effigies. In the 19th century, many public monuments were designed with bas relief panels. The US Lincoln Memorial and the WWII Memorial in Washington, DC, both feature bas relief sculptures.
Bas relief is a versatile technique that can be used to create a wide variety of images and designs. It is often used in conjunction with other sculpting techniques to create more complex compositions. Bas relief is also a popular choice for coins, medals, and other collectibles.