- Latin: cloud
In Christian art, a glow or ornamental circle around the head of a saint, emblematic of his sanctity. Natural phenomena in the refraction of light may have suggested the symbolical nimbus. The pagans used a disc-shaped halo or circle of light for gods, heroes, and persons of distinction. In early Christian art the nimbus was used arbitrarily as an emblem of human greatness, not of divinity. It became the custom to use the square nimbus in portraits of the living, and to reserve the round for the saints. In the course of centuries the idea became more prominent that a nimbus must be given to God, and as a symbol of the grace of God it was given to the saints. Since the Renaissance the nimbus has been more delicately fashioned and sometimes has been omitted. Closely related to the nimbus are the halo, aureole, and glory.