Word of the Week

rhopography, n.
[‘ Chiefly in painting: a depiction of subject matter considered insignificant or trivial, as still life, the domestic interior, animals, etc.’]
Pronunciation: Brit. /rəʊˈpɒɡrəfi/, U.S. /ˌroʊˈpɑɡrəfi/
Etymology: < German Rhopographie (1813 or earlier; 1830 in the passage translated in quot. 1847) < Hellenistic Greek ῥωπογραϕία (apparently only recorded as a Greek word in the classical Latin author Cicero), probably < Byzantine Greek ῥωπογράϕος artist who paints petty subjects, such as still life (see rhopographer n.), although this is apparently first attested later + -ία -y suffix3; compare -graphy comb. form. Compare French rhopographie (1840 or earlier).
Art Hist. Chiefly in painting: a depiction of subject matter considered insignificant or trivial, as still life, the domestic interior, animals, etc.Freq. with reference to Ancient Greek art.
1847 J. Leitch tr. K. O. Müller Ancient Art §163. 122 Rhopography [Ger. Rhopographie]..denotes the representation of restricted scenes in nature—a small portion of a wood, a brook and the like.
1880 E. J. Poynter & P. R. Head Classic & Ital. Painting ii. 35 Grotesque interiors, quaint sketches of animals, flower and fruit pieces, and still life generally, seem to have come under this denomination. Rhopography was in fact exactly what we are familiar with in the modern Dutch school.
1959 J. Emmons tr. C. Sterling Still Life Painting from Antiq. to Present Time (new ed.) 11 A still life painting was originally designated in Greek by the term ‘rhopography’ (i.e. depiction of insignificant objects, of odds and ends).
1990 N. Bryson Looking at Overlooked 15 Painting is itself divided into two sectors: one dealing with the exceptional act and the unique individual, with the narrative and the drama of ‘greatness’ (megalography), and another dealing with the routines of daily living, the domestic round, the absence of personal uniqueness and distinction (rhopography).
2007 B. Costello in J. N. Serio Cambr. Compan. Wallace Stevens xii. 178 Stevens unites an interest in the ordinary detritus of life (here pots and vases), which art historians, following the Greek, call ‘rhopography’, with a desire for the momentous or spiritually significant, or ‘megalography’.


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