One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
1A work in high relief; a sculpture, carving, moulding, etc., in which the shapes project from the plane surface to at least half their actual depth in the round.
2As a mass noun: such sculpture, carving, etc.; = "alto-relievo". Frequently in "in alto relief".
Mid 18th century. Alteration of alto-relievo, after relief, bas-relief.
alto relief/ˌaltəʊ rɪˈliːf/
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