1590s, "decorated entrance of a building," from French frontispice (16c.), which is probably from Italian frontespizio and Medieval Latin frontispicium "facade," originally "a view of the forehead, judgment of character through facial features," from Latin frons (genitive frontis) "forehead" (see front (n.)) + specere "to look at" (from PIE root *spek- "to observe"). Sense of "illustration facing a book's title page" first recorded 1680s. The English spelling alteration apparently is from confusion with unrelated piece (n.).
updated on December 08, 2020