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The Merode Altarpiece, attributed to the workshop of Robert Campin, c. 1427-32 Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece) MET DP273206.jpg
The Merode Altarpiece , attributed to the workshop of Robert Campin, c. 1427–32
Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1490-1510. Museo del Prado, Madrid El jardin de las Delicias, de El Bosco.jpg
Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights , 1490–1510. Museo del Prado, Madrid
The Aino Myth, the Kalevala based triptych painted by Akseli Gallen-Kallela in 1891. Ateneum, Helsinki Gallen Kallela The Aino Triptych.jpg
The Aino Myth , the Kalevala based triptych painted by Akseli Gallen-Kallela in 1891. Ateneum, Helsinki

A triptych ( /ˈtrɪptɪk/ TRIP-tik; from the Greek adjective τρίπτυχον "triptukhon" ("three-fold"), from tri, i.e., "three" and ptysso, i.e., "to fold" or ptyx, i.e., "fold") [1] [2] is a work of art (usually a panel painting) that is divided into three sections, or three carved panels that are hinged together and can be folded shut or displayed open. It is therefore a type of polyptych, the term for all multi-panel works. The middle panel is typically the largest and it is flanked by two smaller related works, although there are triptychs of equal-sized panels. The form can also be used for pendant jewelry.


Beyond its association with art, the term is sometimes used more generally to connote anything with three parts, particularly if integrated into a single unit. [3]

In art

The triptych form appears in early Christian art, and was a popular standard format for altar paintings from the Middle Ages onwards. Its geographical range was from the eastern Byzantine churches to the Celtic churches in the west. During the Byzantine period, triptychs were often used for private devotional use, along with other relics such as icons. [4] Renaissance painters such as Hans Memling and Hieronymus Bosch used the form. Sculptors also used it. Triptych forms also allow ease of transport.

From the Gothic period onward, both in Europe and elsewhere, altarpieces in churches and cathedrals were often in triptych form. One such cathedral with an altarpiece triptych is Llandaff Cathedral. The Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, Belgium, contains two examples by Rubens, and Notre Dame de Paris is another example of the use of triptych in architecture. The form is echoed by the structure of many ecclesiastical stained glass windows.

The triptych form's transportability was exploited during World War Two when a private citizens' committee in the United States commissioned painters and sculptors to create portable three-panel hinged altarpieces for use by Christian and Jewish U.S. troops for religious services. [5] By the end of the war, 70 artists had created 460 triptychs. Among the most prolific were Violet Oakley, Nina Barr Wheeler, and Hildreth Meiere. [6]

The triptych format has been used in non-Christian faiths, including, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. For example: the triptych Hilje-j-Sherif displayed at the National Museum of Oriental Art, Rome, Italy, and a page of the Qur'an at the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts in Istanbul, Turkey, exemplify Ottoman religious art adapting the motif. [7] Likewise, Tibetan Buddhists have used it in traditional altars. [8]

Although strongly identified as a religious altarpiece form, triptychs outside that context have been created, some of the best-known examples being works by Max Beckmann and Francis Bacon. When Bacon's 1969 triptych, Three Studies of Lucian Freud , was sold in 2013 for $142.4 million, [9] it was the highest price ever paid for an artwork at auction at that time. [10] That record was broken in May 2015 by $179.4 million for Pablo Picasso's 1955 painting Les Femmes d’Alger . [11]

In photography

Modern photographic triptych Epilobium hirsutum - Seed head - Triptych.jpg
Modern photographic triptych

A photographic triptych is a common style used in modern commercial artwork. The photographs are usually arranged with a plain border between them. The work may consist of separate images that are variants on a theme, or may be one larger image split into three. [12] [13] [14]


See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Diptych</span> Two-part polyptych

A diptych is any object with two flat plates which form a pair, often attached by hinge. For example, the standard notebook and school exercise book of the ancient world was a diptych consisting of a pair of such plates that contained a recessed space filled with wax. Writing was accomplished by scratching the wax surface with a stylus. When the notes were no longer needed, the wax could be slightly heated and then smoothed to allow reuse. Ordinary versions had wooden frames, but more luxurious diptychs were crafted with more expensive materials.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Altarpiece</span> Religious artwork behind an altar

An altarpiece is an artwork such as a painting, sculpture or relief representing a religious subject made for placing at the back of or behind the altar of a Christian church. Though most commonly used for a single work of art such as a painting or sculpture, or a set of them, the word can also be used of the whole ensemble behind an altar, otherwise known as a reredos, including what is often an elaborate frame for the central image or images. Altarpieces were one of the most important products of Christian art especially from the late Middle Ages to the era of the Counter-Reformation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Polyptych</span> Painting divided into multiple panels

A polyptych is a painting which is divided into sections, or panels. Specifically, a "diptych" is a two-part work of art; a "triptych" is a three-part work; a tetraptych or quadriptych has four parts, and so on.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Early Netherlandish painting</span> Work of artists active in the Low Countries during the 15th- and 16th-century Northern Renaissance

Early Netherlandish painting, traditionally known as the Flemish Primitives, refers to the work of artists active in the Burgundian and Habsburg Netherlands during the 15th- and 16th-century Northern Renaissance period. It flourished especially in the cities of Bruges, Ghent, Mechelen, Leuven, Tournai and Brussels, all in present-day Belgium. The period begins approximately with Robert Campin and Jan van Eyck in the 1420s and lasts at least until the death of Gerard David in 1523, although many scholars extend it to the start of the Dutch Revolt in 1566 or 1568–Max J. Friedländer's acclaimed surveys run through Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Early Netherlandish painting coincides with the Early and High Italian Renaissance, but the early period is seen as an independent artistic evolution, separate from the Renaissance humanism that characterised developments in Italy. Beginning in the 1490s, as increasing numbers of Netherlandish and other Northern painters traveled to Italy, Renaissance ideals and painting styles were incorporated into northern painting. As a result, Early Netherlandish painters are often categorised as belonging to both the Northern Renaissance and the Late or International Gothic.

<i>Ship of Fools</i> (painting) Painting by Hieronymus Bosch

Ship of Fools is a painting by Hieronymus Bosch, now in the Musée du Louvre, Paris. Camille Benoit donated it in 1918. The Louvre restored it in 2015. The surviving painting is a fragment of a triptych that was cut into several parts. The Ship of Fools was painted on one of the wings of the altarpiece, and is about two-thirds of its original length. The bottom third of the panel belongs to Yale University Art Gallery and is exhibited under the title Allegory of Gluttony. The other wing, which has more or less retained its full length, is the Death and the Miser, now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. The two panels together would have represented the two extremes of prodigality and miserliness, condemning and caricaturing both. The Wayfarer(Rotterdam) was painted on the right panel rear of the triptych. The central panel, if it existed, is unknown.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hildreth Meière</span>

Hildreth Meière (1892–1961) was an American muralist active in the first half of the twentieth century who is especially known for her Art Deco designs. During her 40-year career she completed approximately 100 commissions. She designed murals for office buildings, churches, government centers, theaters, restaurants, cocktail lounges, ocean liners, and world’s fair pavilions, and she worked in a wide variety of mediums, including paint, ceramic tile, glass and marble mosaic, terracotta, wood, metal, and stained glass. Among her extensive body of work are the iconographic interiors at the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln, the dynamic roundels of Dance, Drama, and Song at Radio City Music Hall, the apse and narthex mosaics and stained-glass windows at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church (Manhattan), and the decoration of the Great Hall at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C.

<i>The Elevation of the Cross</i> (Rubens) Triptych by Peter Paul Rubens

The Elevation of the Cross is the name of two paintings, a very large triptych in oil on panel and a much smaller oil on paper painting. Both pieces were painted by the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens in Antwerp, Belgium, the original in 1610 and the latter in 1638.

<i>St. John the Evangelist on Patmos</i> Painting by Hieronymus Bosch

St. John on Patmos is an oil on panel painting by Hieronymus Bosch, created c. 1489. The painting is held in the Gemäldegalerie, in Berlin, Germany. The reverse is also painted, the title of that picture is Scenes from the Passion of Christ and the Pelican with Her Young.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nina Barr Wheeler</span> American painter

Nina Barr Wheeler was an American artist. She worked with Hildreth Meiere on many of her murals, and also was a painter of Catholic religious art. She studied painting at the Art Students League of New York, and the American School in Fontainebleau, France. She painted two murals for the 1940 World's Fair in New York, and was a member of the Architectural League of New York and the National Society of Mural Painters. She designed stained glass windows for the National Cathedral in Washington, DC and murals for the interior of The Tavern on the Green restaurant in New York City. She was most active during the Depression and World War II, and designed many religious triptychs, which were used as portable altars for the armed forces. One of her works can be found in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Santa Maria della Scala, Siena</span> Hospital in Tuscany, Italy

Santa Maria della Scala is located in Siena, Italy. Now a museum, it was once an important civic hospital dedicated to caring for abandoned children, the poor, the sick, and pilgrims. Revenues were earned partially from bequests and donations from the citizens of Siena, particularly the wealthy. The head of the hospital was the rector who managed the lay brothers responsible for its operation.

The Last Judgment is part of the eschatology of the Abrahamic religions and in the Frashokereti of Zoroastrianism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Frans Francken the Elder</span> Flemish painter

Frans Francken I or Frans Francken the Elder was a Flemish painter who was one of the principal painters in Antwerp during the Counter-Reformation. He is mainly known for his large altarpieces and allegorical paintings. He was a member of the Francken dynasty of painters that played an important role in the Antwerp art scene in the 17th century.

<i>Fiesole Altarpiece</i>

The Fiesole Altarpiece is a painting by the Italian early Renaissance master Fra Angelico, executed around 1424–1425. It is housed in the Convent of San Domenico, Fiesole, central Italy. The background was repainted by Lorenzo di Credi in 1501.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mariotto di Nardo</span> Italian painter

Mariotto di Nardo di Cione was a Florentine painter in the Florentine Gothic style. He worked at the Duomo of Florence, the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, and the Orsanmichele. He created both frescoes and panel paintings, and was also active as a manuscript illuminator.

<i>Crucifixion Diptych</i> (van der Weyden)

Crucifixion Diptych — also known as Philadelphia Diptych, Calvary Diptych, Christ on the Cross with the Virgin and St. John, or The Crucifixion with the Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist Mourning — is a diptych by the Early Netherlandish artist Rogier van der Weyden, completed c. 1460, today in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The panels are noted for their technical skill, visceral impact and for possessing a physicality and directness unusual for Netherlandish art of the time. The Philadelphia Museum of Art describes work as the "greatest Old Master painting in the Museum."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Winged altarpiece</span> Form of folding altarpiece

A winged altarpiece or winged retable is a special form of altarpiece, common in Northern and Central Europe, in which the central image, either a painting or relief sculpture can be hidden by hinged wings. It is called a triptych if there are two wings, a pentaptych if there are four, or a polyptych if there are four or more. The technical terms are derived from Ancient Greek: τρίς: trís or "triple"; πέντε: pénte or "five"; πολύς: polýs or "many"; and πτυχή: ptychē or "fold, layer".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gothic boxwood miniature</span> Early 16th-century wood carving of the Low Countries

Gothic boxwood miniatures are very small Christian wood sculptures produced during the 15th and 16th centuries in the Low Countries, at the end of the Gothic period and during the emerging Northern Renaissance. They consist of highly intricate layers of reliefs, often rendered to nearly microscopic level, and are made from boxwood, which has a fine grain and high density suitable for detailed micro-carving. There are around 150 surviving examples; most are spherical rosary beads, statuettes, skulls, or coffins; some 20 are in the form of polyptychs, including triptych and diptych altarpieces, tabernacles and monstrances. The polyptychs are typically 10–13 cm in height. Most of the beads are 10–15 cm in diameter and designed so they could be held in the palm of a hand, hung from necklaces or belts, or worn as fashionable accessories.

<i>Miniature altarpiece</i> (WB.232)

The miniature altarpiece in the British Museum, London, is a very small portable Gothic boxwood miniature sculpture completed in 1511 by the Northern Netherlands master sometimes identified as Adam Dircksz, and members of his workshop. At 25.1 cm (9.9 in) high, it is built from a series of architectural layers or registers, which culminate at an upper triptych, whose center panel contains a minutely detailed and intricate Crucifixion scene filled with multitudes of figures in relief. Its outer wings show Christ Carrying the Cross on the left, and the Resurrection on the right.

<i>Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus</i> Triptych by Francis Bacon

Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus is a 1981 oil on canvas triptych painting by Francis Bacon. It is one of 28 large triptych paintings by Bacon, each comprising three oil on canvas panels which measure 198 cm × 147.5 cm.


  1. "triptych". Online Etymology Dictionary.
  2. τρίπτυχον . Liddell, Henry George ; Scott, Robert ; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  3. "Triptych". Merriam-Webster Dictionary . Retrieved January 28, 2017. Although triptych originally described a specific type of Roman writing tablet that had three hinged sections, it is not surprising that the idea was generalized first to a type of painting, and then to anything composed of three parts.
  4. 2014. History of the World in 1,000 Objects.London, New York. D.K. Publishing.
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