Italian Word of the Day: Capolavoro (masterpiece)

The word for masterpiece or best work in Italian is capolavoro (masculine, plural: capolavori). It is the combination of the words capo (head / extremity) and lavoro (work / job).


Traditionally capolavoro refers to the very best piece of work by an artist or a writer, or of a particular era or style. Some examples of famous capolavori include:

  • La Mona Lisa, il capolavoro di Leonardo da Vinci = The Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece
  • La Divina Commedia, il capolavoro di Dante Alighieri = The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri’s masterpiece
  • L’Ultima Cena, il capolavoro del Rinascimento italiano = The Last Supper, the masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance

By extension, it may also denote a great example of someone’s work in the fields of art, literature, cooking and so on without it necessarily being the best.

L’ultimo film di Martin Scorsese è un capolavoro.

The latest film by Martin Scorsese is a masterpiece.

Male painter with palette and brush in hand paints woman's portrait on easel
Il pittore è pronto a dipingere un nuovo capolavoro. = The painter is ready to paint a new masterpiece.

Capolavoro may also be used in an ironic sense to talk about something of very poor quality or a poorly executed activity.

Questo tema è un capolavoro di errori grammaticali!

This essay is a masterpiece of grammatical errors!

Hai fatto un bel capolavoro!

Look at the mess you’ve made! / Now look what you’ve done!

Finally it can refer to the test piece that a worker hired on probation must produce at the end of a relevant period to demonstrate their professional ability.

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