A tableau is a dramatic picture. If you catch a glance into the Oval Office and see top advisers speaking to each other with intensity, you behold a dramatic political tableau.

Tableau comes from the old French for "picture, or painted target." We usually use tableau to describe a vivid living scene. If you are a journalist and want to describe the tension in a courtroom, you might write a verbal tableau of the judge, the jury, and the witness box. People used to entertain themselves by doing tableau vivant, or living pictures, by reenacting perfectly the frozen scene of a famous painting.

Definitions of tableau
  1. noun
    any dramatic scene
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    type of:
    aspect, panorama, prospect, scene, view, vista
    the visual percept of a region
  2. noun
    a group of people attractively arranged (as if in a painting)
    synonyms: tableau vivant
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    type of:
    an orderly grouping (of things or persons) considered as a unit; the result of arranging
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