I'm looking for a word or term I heard once in a modern art class that refers to an art piece that contains multiple layers from different eras. The example used in the class that I distinctly recall is the following: imagine an ancient Roman artwork, which a Renaissance artist painted over, which a contemporary modern artist painted over, and now the layers from each period are becoming exposed.

A more metaphorical interpretation would be to imagine a modern movie, that references a silver screen movie, which in turn was an adaption of a Shakespearean play.

To my best recollection, I don't believe the term had to do with simulacra and referents (a la Baudrillard), but I may be mistaken, as I don't know much about that philosophy; rather, I think the term had to do with a specific physical technique or archaeological term. However, it's not impossible that the term was symbolic/philsophical.

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    Are you thinking palimpsest? Commented Jul 22, 2023 at 17:11
  • Repainting is a term used wrt artists' change of mind about their work.
    – user97231
    Commented Jul 23, 2023 at 12:33
  • Thanks @BrianDonovan, you were the first!
    – sat0ri
    Commented Jul 23, 2023 at 13:39

4 Answers 4


For writing especially, this is often called a "palimpsest". From M-W:

1: writing material (such as a parchment or tablet) used one or more times after earlier writing has been erased

Although I believe that that is the earlier and more common usage, the term is also used in other contexts (including figurative ones). Here is M-W's second definition:

2: something having usually diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface
| Canada … is a palimpsest, an overlay of classes and generations.
—Margaret Atwood
| too short a time to get to know the palimpsest of Genevan societies, let alone those of Switzerland
—George Steiner

(I see that Brian Donovan made the same suggestion in a comment.)

  • 2
    I've upvoted your answer as palimpsest has a broader usage, although the example given is a painting so I've provided the term pentimento. Both answers could be acceptable.
    – ermanen
    Commented Jul 22, 2023 at 19:29
  • 2
    @ermanen Haha, and I just upvoted yours, too! Yes, I think that both terms together likely cover the gamut of what OP wanted. Commented Jul 22, 2023 at 19:33
  • 4
    +1 for the both of you. Commented Jul 23, 2023 at 1:12
  • 1
    Indeed both answers are excellent, though unfortunately I can't recall which specific word was used in the art class long ago. Nonetheless, I'm glad to know both of these; which I choose more depends on which context/sentence I write, rather than one answer being "more correct" than the other. Thank you both for the brilliant answers!
    – sat0ri
    Commented Jul 23, 2023 at 13:33
  • 1
    The question specifically notes that the term is used in archaeology. The term palimpsest is exactly that term. I have upvoted your answer, as it is certainly what the asker is wanting, though I think that it could be improved by noting the use in archaeology. See, e.g. carleton.ca/rangifercentral/barrenlands-prehistory/… and sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0278416506000481 . Commented Jul 23, 2023 at 22:19

Pentimento is a term used in art terminology.

In painting, a pentimento (Italian for 'repentance'; from the verb pentirsi, meaning 'to repent'; plural pentimenti) is "the presence or emergence of earlier images, forms, or strokes that have been changed and painted over". - Wikipedia

Wikipedia also mentions the fully anglicised word pentiment (plural pentiments) but adds that it is much rarer and it is included in the Grove Dictionary of Art.

  • Brilliant answer, thank you. I can't recall if pentimento or palimpsest was the specific word I was thinking of, but pentimento certainly is an accurate answer and works perfectly for what I was requesting.
    – sat0ri
    Commented Jul 23, 2023 at 13:27

A word that could be used as perhaps an acceptable hypernym is stratified:

stratified [adjective]

1: formed, deposited, or arranged in stable layers or strata


A related example occurs in a thesis by Leyla Etyemez, M.Sc. September 2011:

The major subject of this study is the multi-layered historical towns which are the outcome of continuous inhabitation process. This continuous inhabitation is reflected in the current town by the physical remains belonging to different periods. These remaining elements of the past periods can be conserved, as long as they become an integral part of the current urban context. Thus, sustaining the multilayeredness requires sustaining the integration of the remaining elements of the former periods with the current context. Thereupon, the main aim of the thesis becomes to develop a method for assessing the integration of historical stratification with the current town in accordance with the physical, visual, functional, social and managerial aspects.

  • 1
    Thank you, great answer and brilliant piece of research support. This is exactly on the money, though perhaps not a particular word I was trying to remember. Very interesting work. I looked it up a link for easy future reference: "Assessing the integration of historical stratification with the current context in multi-layered towns" open.metu.edu.tr/handle/11511/21072
    – sat0ri
    Commented Jul 23, 2023 at 13:36

The layer underneath could be called a substrate or substratum from Merriam-Webster:

an underlying support : foundation: such as

a: substance that is a permanent subject of qualities or phenomena

b: the material of which something is made and from which it derives its special qualities

c: a layer beneath the surface soil specifically : subsoil

Especially in a courtroom, a work based upon another this way is derivative, but this is probably not what you were thinking of.

  • Great answers. "Derivative" definitely fits within the notion that I had in mind, though I wish there wasn't such negative connotations with that word.
    – sat0ri
    Commented Jul 23, 2023 at 13:38

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