Speaking about contemporary art, I often use the adjective 'materico' to describe the quality of a painting realized with thick layers of colour. It is not simply a question of thickness. In the art history we started using this term in order to state the overcoming of bidimensionality so that the resulting arwork has different percevable levels, without being properly a sculpure.

Thanks all for your valuable contribute. Do you think I might describe this quality as 'highly tactile'?

  • Materic painting: etsy.com/it/market/materic_painting – user66974 Oct 24 '14 at 14:21
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    paint that is plied on thickly, thick heavy strokes, straight from the tube, ... impasto! – Mari-Lou A Oct 24 '14 at 14:33
  • dude do you mean specifically when you work with a palette knife? – Fattie Oct 24 '14 at 14:34
  • Mari - that's the English word impasto. But when I'm drunk in an Italian gallery, "Materico" really has a different sense – Fattie Oct 24 '14 at 14:38
  • 'Highly tactile' only really makes sense if you're allowed to touch it. I'm not sure things can look tactile. (They can look as though they would be highly tactile if only one were allowed to touch them, I suppose). – A E Oct 24 '14 at 15:07

I asked my resident art historian PhD candidate (in the United States). She coincidentally happened to study in Italy. This is what she said:

There isn't an exact English term for 'materico'. In art history, we would either use impasto or mixed media (or stick with materico to explain manipulating materials). Sometimes you will even see an art historian write in bas relief style to explain the feeling of layering to create an apparent 3rd dimension.

In terms of describing an art work, and which English term to use, would depend on the medium... straight layering of paint: impasto, adding sand, etc: mixed media.

You will see more contemporary artists incorporating materico without quotes into their artist's statement, which does work when explaining that they are manipulating materials and, so, you can argue it is becoming an adopted English word.

  • So my rationale/answer was pretty accurate, according to your art historian. – Mari-Lou A Oct 25 '14 at 17:55
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    Yes, pretty much. The only thing missing was the concession that materico can be considered successfully adopted word that stands on its own in English usage among art historians. But I will up vote you! – Canis Lupus Oct 25 '14 at 18:03

Ciao, I'm pretty sure


is what you're after. It's not really fully what you mean but then, nothing is. Normally we just use Italian words, in this sort of situation. :)

By the way it's easy to see examples of materico, superficially meaning "paintings with ridges and bumps..."

Just google "Materico" and click "images" for 100s of examples:

close-ups of surfaces of paintings showing rich textures - ridges, etc. - on the surface.

I'm not really sure if "impasto" has the same sense of "those paintings with ridges and bumps".

For example, Van Gogh's most impasto pictures ... did they have that materico look? Would you use the word "materico"? I don't know.

Silvia, here's the problem you face:

Imagine a SPECTRUM:

bar-graph showing the spectrum of visible light from violet color to red

On the left, you have completely physical terms.


  • it was painted using a brush

  • the canvas is made of linen

  • she used a tempera

But. Moving along, we have terms that are more conceptual.

  • WTF this Caravaggio dude has chiaroscuro locked-down

  • it's very plastic (in the sense of "3D ish")

  • these naive painters are fun

  • check out the repoussieoire on that

And then. Moving right along, you have totally artistic terms...

  • this is profoundly modern

  • behold. the renaissance. consciousness is born in man. OMFG.

  • this is abstract art

Here's the problem you face Silvia....

Superficially, materico just means "impasto" ("thick paint") or "mixed media". So there you go; impasto is the translation to a, uh, English word.


because you're Italian, everything gets elevated two levels. This is exactly why it's so hard to, really, translate Italian (especially if you work with product names or the like). Indeed this is why basically for people from Anglophone regions, the best way to deal with high Italian language is just go to, say, Cremona, forget about everything, and constantly eat and drink. Yeah!

Here's the excellent example I always give of this. There's a car manufacturer in Italy who has a model called the quattroporte. Now for rich car buyers in English speaking countries, Asia, etc, this is the most exotic thing you can hear. The word conjures up fabulous wealths of meaning - style, speed on the sophisticated side, a certain manner of living...

Of course, the word simply means "four door". It's a "four door car". A similar older example from the auto world is simply "testarossa. It just means nothigng more than "red head". There was a bit of red paint on the plastic head covers of the engine! But, in Italian, these words feel, and indeed mean, tremendously more.

I feel, from my limited experience of hearing it used, materico means more than "thick paint". You probably use it, even, to describe images (perhaps even just photographs) that really go "in and out" (for want of a better description).

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    Yes! That was going to be my answer. But why do you have to spoil it by being "sarcastic/droll" :( – Mari-Lou A Oct 24 '14 at 14:37
  • pittura materica – Mari-Lou A Oct 24 '14 at 14:43
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    @JoeBlow - you're putting a lot of inappropriate commentary/editorializing in your answer. A mo is probably editing it to remove that. Please try to be factual, and keep your commentary (which might actually be relevant) in a more sober style. – Mitch Oct 24 '14 at 14:49
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    On reading your answer more carefully, I notice that most of it is irrelevant to the answer. – Mitch Oct 24 '14 at 14:51

Failing impasto, I feel you will have to make do with a series of words, expressions to convey the materico painting technique or style. One word will not be enough...

I would describe materico as being a type of textured mixed media painting.

Textured because the paint can be applied so thickly that it appears raised from the surface. I also believe that many artists incorporate and bond different fabrics in their works of art.

Mixed media because different mediums are used, I already mentioned the use of fabrics, but there is also metal, plastic, paper, cardboard etc. which artists following the materico style will employ and experiment with. Very often the resulting work will appear to have layers, again this produces a very tactile and three-dimensional effect.

Here is one such example of a textured mixed media painting an abstract collage painting using different mediums; its main feature is a piece of ripped frayed hessian bonded on a flat stained solid surface; the painting is mounted on a wall

The artist Carol Nelson describes it thus

This is something different. It's actually two paintings sandwiched together. The top 6x6 painting is a mixed media collage with an epoxy coating. It is mounted on a 7x7 panel painted to coordinate with the top painting. I think the layered 3D effect is cool. The top painting is actually a demo piece I did for a workshop I gave a couple months ago. I was showing the class how you can use a variety of materials (tyvek, burlap, tacks, in this case) to create a design and then seal all the parts under a layer of epoxy resin.


Texture painting : (from Wikipedia)

  • in painting is the look and feel of the canvas. It is based on the paint, and its application, or the addition of materials such as ribbon, metal, wood, lace, leather and sand. The concept of 'painterliness' also has bearing on texture. The texture stimulates two different senses; sight and touch. There are four types of texture in art: actual texture, simulated texture, abstract texture, and invented texture.
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    nah, that's like assemblage. – Fattie Oct 24 '14 at 14:37
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    it is not exactly to the point even if the idea of stimulating different senses is surely connected. – SILVIA CASILLI Oct 24 '14 at 14:48
  • Don't think there is a specific translation of 'materico. Googling you can find materic/material/matter. But could find no reliable referenze on the subject, Bte interesting question! – user66974 Oct 24 '14 at 15:19

'relief' (noun)

A method of moulding, carving, or stamping in which the design stands out from the surface, to a greater ( high relief) or lesser ( low relief) extent:

he cast them in relief from molten metal
Intaglio is a type of incised relief in which the design does not project from the surface; rather it is cut into it, sinking below the surface.
Previous Pharaohs had followed the rule that, in temple design, incised relief was used on the exterior walls, where it could cast strong shadows.
Later, it became more complex: cutting, putting blocks together, printing with relief and with intaglio blocks.

4.2 [COUNT NOUN] A piece of sculpture in relief.

Sculpture is generally classified into three major categories: intaglio, reliefs and sculpture in the round.
The arch was inset with sculptural reliefs depicting the campaigns of the French armies in Italy, while in front and behind it there stood figures of Liberty and Triumph on circular podia.
Although technically sculptural reliefs, these works speak to a number of painting's traditional formal concerns.


Although that definition talks about 'moulding, carving or stamping', I think you could also say that a differing thickness of paint provides different degrees of relief. It's from the geography meaning, "Difference in height from the surrounding terrain", so it's pretty much a formal way to say 'bumpiness'.

!The 'Queen of the Night' Relief, Old Babylonian, 1800-1750 BC From southern Iraq
"This large plaque is made of baked straw-tempered clay, modelled in high relief." http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/t/queen_of_the_night_relief.aspx

"Generally speaking, mural decorations were in paint when the ground was mud brick or stone of poor quality and in relief when the walls were in good stone. Painting and drawing formed the basis of what was to be carved in relief, and the finished carving was itself commonly painted." http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/180644/Egyptian-art-and-architecture/59901/Relief-sculpture-and-painting

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    nah dude, you don't use that word in discussing pictures, even if they have extreme "relief". – Fattie Oct 24 '14 at 14:36
  • @JoeBlow Your suggestion of 'impasto' is better then. – A E Oct 24 '14 at 14:38

It seems like the literal translation of materico from Italian is material. However, since you describe its meaning as something that overcomes its two dimensional limitations I think I good English word to describe that would be substance.

substance: 2. noun the real physical matter of which a person or thing consists and which has a tangible, solid presence 1

The key is the tangible solid presence, which is understood as a more figurative description when discussing a two-dimensional work of art.

Source (Google) 1

  • nah, nah... "Materico" is a word you use to "describe art". You know how, some trivial examples, you might say a "chiaroscuro" painting, or a "realist" painting, or a "cubist" painting. it's sort of more like that. of course, in all those examples, there are prosaic descriptions of technique ("that cubist painting was made with a brush" "that cubist painting was made all prima" ... whatever.) but the notin that it is "cubist" is much "bigger" you know? – Fattie Oct 24 '14 at 14:40
  • Yes Joe, it is a word behind which there is much more than the way you apply some colour on the surface, but I like the idea of solid presence. – SILVIA CASILLI Oct 24 '14 at 14:55

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