Definition, History: Three-Panel Altarpiece.

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Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello
Niccolo Mauruzi da Tolentino at
the Battle of San Romano (1440)
National Gallery, London.
(Left-hand panel of triptych)
By Paolo Uccello.



What is a Triptych?
Famous Triptychs
Further Resources

Descent From the Cross (c.1440)
Prado Museum, Madrid.
Triptych by Roger van der Weyden,
a masterpiece of religious art
from the Flemish school.

See our educational articles:
Famous Paintings Analyzed
Art Evaluation and also:
How to Appreciate Paintings.

What is a Triptych?

The term "triptych" - whose name stems from the Greek for "three folds" - is used in fine art to describe a painting which consists of three parts, usually comprising a larger central panel and two wings that are hinged together so that the wings fold over the centre when closed. Sometimes there is a base, called a predella, below the central panel. These hinged panel paintings were one of the most popular forms of altarpiece art from the medieval era on. Like stained glass art, as well as mosaics and illusionist mural painting - known as quadratura - painted altarpieces (whether in diptych, triptych or polyptych format) served to inspire and educated Christian congregations with Biblical art from the Old Testament and the Gospels.

This type of Christian art first appeared in early Eastern Orthodox churches: indeed it became a regular feature of Christian Art in the Byzantine Era (c.400-1200). Later they were popular in Gothic art (notably in Germany until the late 16th century), as well as in medieval painting of the trecento and quattrocento when a new format became popular - the Madonna and Child with Saints ("Sacra Conversazione"). Triptych paintings were also common in the Netherlandish Renaissance (1430-1580): perhaps the two best-known examples are Portinari Altarpiece (1476-79, Uffizi) by Hugo Van Der Goes (1440-82); and the Garden of Earthly Delights (1500-05, Prado, Madrid) by Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516).

Triptychs may also be wholly carved. This type of 3-part wood carving was most popular in German Gothic art. In addition, the format is also known in Jewellery art, in the ornamentation of Romanesque plaques, caskets and vessels, as illustrated by the Stavelot Triptych.

Triptychs are also an occasional feature of modern art: famous exponents include Max Beckmann (1884-1950) and Francis Bacon (1909-92). Twentieth-century triptychs are also occasionally seen in contemporary Art Photography, and in Video Art, see, for example, the Nantes Triptych (1992) by Bill Viola.


Famous Triptychs

In addition to the two cited above, here are a list of religious paintings created in triptych format during the 14th century, the Italian and Northern Renaissance, and the Baroque:

Holy Virgin with St. Dominic and St. Aurea (1300) National Gall, London.
By Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1255-1319)
Stephaneschi Triptych (1313) Vatican Museums, Rome.
By Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337)
Virgin and Child between St Francis & St John the Baptist (1315) Assisi.
By Pietro Lorenzetti (active 1320-45)
Virgin and Child between St Nicholas and St Proculus (1332) Uffizi.
By Ambrogio Lorenzetti (Active 1319-48)
Annunciation Triptych (1333) Uffizi, Florence.
By Simone Martini (1285-1344)
Seilern (Entombment) Triptych (1410) Courtauld Galleries, London.
By Robert Campin (Master of Flemalle) (c.1378-1444)
Merode Altarpiece (c.1427) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
By Robert Campin (Master of Flemalle) (c.1378-1444)
St Peter the Martyr (1429) Museo di San Marco, Florence.
By Fra Angelico (1395-1455)
The Linaiuoli Triptych (1433) Museo di San Marco, Florence.
By Fra Angelico (1395-1455)
The Annunciation (1440) Louvre, Paris; Gallery Sabauda, Turin.
By Roger van der Weyden (1400-1464)
Three Kings Altarpiece (c.1440) Cologne Cathedral.
By Stefan Lochner (c.1400-51)
Seven Sacraments Altar (1445) Koninklijk Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp.
By Roger van der Weyden (1400-1464)
St. Sebastian Triptych (1460-1464) Academy Gallery, Venice.
By Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516)
Perugia Altarpiece (1460-70) Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria, Perugia.
By Piero della Francesca
The Last Supper (1464-7) Louvain Cathedral.
By Dieric Bouts (c.1415-75)
Last Judgment Triptych (1471) Muzeum Narodowe, Gdansk.
By Hans Memling (c.1433-94)
Portinari Altarpiece (1476-79) Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
By Hugo Van Der Goes (1440-82)
Donne Triptych (1477-80) National Gallery, London
By Hans Memling (1433-94)
Triptych of the Mystical Marriage of St Catherine (1479) M. Mus, Bruges.
By Hans Memling (c.1433-94)
Altarpiece of the Church Fathers (1483) Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
By Michael Pacher (1435-98)
Galitzine Triptych (1483-1500) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
By Pietro Perugino (1450-1523)
Frari Madonna (1488) Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice.
By Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516)
The Paumgartner Altarpiece (1498) Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
By Albrecht Durer (1471-1528)
The Haywain Triptych (1500) Prado, Madrid.
By Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516)
Garden of Earthly Delights (1500-05) Prado, Madrid.
By Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516)
The Last Judgement (Triptych) (1505-10) Bildendenkunste, Vienna.
By Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516)
Altarpiece of the Rose Garlands (1506) Marodni Galerie, Prague.
By Albrecht Durer (1471-1528)
Altarpiece of the Holy Kindred (1509) Royal Museum, Brussels.
By Quentin Massys (c.1465-1530)
The Malvagna Triptych (1511) Regional Gallery of Sicily, Palermo.
By Jan Gossaert
Salvator Mundi Altarpiece (1516) Academy Gallery, Florence.
By Fra Bartolommeo (1472-1517)
The Healing of the Blind Man of Jericho (1531) Hermitage, St Petersburg.
By Lucas van Leyden.
The Raising of the Cross (1611) Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp.
By Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

Famous Modern Triptychs

Celebrated triptych paintings produced by 20th century artists, include:

Water Lilies (c.1919) Museum of Modern Art, New York.
By Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Beginning (1949) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
By Max Beckmann (1884-1950)
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) Tate.
By Francis Bacon (1909-92)
Blue I,II,III (1961) National Museum of Modern Art, Pompidou Centre, Paris.
By Joan Miro (1893-1983)

Further Resources

- Venetian Altarpieces (1500-1600)

• For more terms, see: Painting Glossary.
• For more about religious paintings, see: Homepage.

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