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
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

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


  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.
  5. ^ Brawer, Catherine Coleman; Skolnick, Kathrine Murphy (2014). The Art Deco murals of Hildreth Meière (First ed.). New York: Andrea Monfried Editions. ISBN 978-0-9910263-0-2.
  6. ^ Richmond-Moll, Jeffrey (Spring 2018). "Triptychs at War: Violet Oakley's Victory". Archives of American Art Journal. 57 (1): 22–43.
  7. ^ Museum With No Frontiers (2007). Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean. Brussels, Belgium, Beirut, Lebanon: Museum With No Frontiers, Arab Institute for Research and Publishing. p. 258. ISBN 9789953369570. Retrieved January 28, 2017.
  8. ^ Wise, Tad; Beers, Robert; Carter, David A. (August 25, 2004). Tibetan Buddhist Altars: A Pop-Up Gallery of Traditional Art and Wisdom (Hardcover). New World Library. ISBN 978-1577314677.
  9. ^ "2013 Live Auction 2791 Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale". Christie's. November 11, 2013. Retrieved 15 March 2022.
  10. ^ Vogel, Carol (November 12, 2013). "Bacon's Study of Freud Sells for $142.4 Million". The New York Times. Retrieved November 12, 2013.
  11. ^ A History Of Insane Art Prices Archived 2016-12-28 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 16 November 2015.
  12. ^ Photo Answers Magazine Archived 2014-11-29 at the Wayback Machine 9 April 2009, Michael Topham
  13. ^ Digital Photography School: Diptychs & Triptychs – 5 Prime Examples Elizabeth Halford
  14. ^ Kay, Nate (3 January 2017), Triptych Photography Examples and Ideas, The Photo Argus, retrieved 28 June 2017
  15. ^ Marcin Latka. "Triptych with Legend of Saint Stanislaus from Pławno". artinpl. Retrieved 3 August 2019.

External links

Media files used on this page

Author/Creator: Dan Polansky based on work currently attributed to Wikimedia Foundation but originally created by Smurrayinchester, Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0
A logo derived from File:WiktionaryEn.svg, a logo showing a 3 x 3 matrix of variously rotated tiles with a letter or character on each tile. The derivation consisted in removing the tiles that form the background of each of the shown characters. File:WiktionaryEn.svg is under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike, created by Smurrayinchester, and attributed to Wikimedia Foundation. This is the version without the wordmark.
Klosterneuburg - Stift, Verduner Altar (1).JPG
Author/Creator: Bwag, Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0
Der Verduner Altar in der Leopoldskapelle des Augustiner-Chorherrenstiftes in der niederösterreichischen Stadt Klosterneuburg.
Das Kunstwerk mit insgesamt 45 Emailtafeln wurde von dem Künstler Nikolaus von Verdun im Jahre 1181 nach ungefähr zehnjähriger Arbeit fertiggestellt und war ursprünglich ein Schmuckwerk der Kanzelbrüstung in der Stiftskirche. Nach einem Brand im Jahre 1330 wurden die 45 Tafeln und 6 neu gefertigte Tafeln zu einem Flügelaltar zusammengefügt.
El jardín de las Delicias, de El Bosco.jpg
En el tríptico abierto se incluyen tres escenas. La tabla izquierda está dedicada al Paraíso, con la creación de Eva y la Fuente de la Vida, mientras la derecha muestra el Infierno. La tabla central da nombre al conjunto, al representarse en un jardín las delicias o placeres de la vida. Entre Paraíso e Infierno, estas delicias no son sino alusiones al Pecado, que muestran a la humanidad entregada a los diversos placeres mundanos. Son evidentes las representaciones de la Lujuria, de fuerte carga erótica, junto a otras de significado más enigmático. A través de la fugaz belleza de las flores o de la dulzura de las frutas, se transmite un mensaje de fragilidad, del carácter efímero de la felicidad y del goce del placer. Así parecen corroborarlo ciertos grupos, como la pareja encerrada en un globo de cristal en el lado izquierdo, en probable alusión al refrán flamenco: “La felicidad es como el vidrio, se rompe pronto”. El tríptico cerrado representa en grisalla el tercer día de la creación del Mundo, con Dios Padre como Creador, según sendas inscripciones en cada tabla: “Él mismo lo dijo y todo fue hecho” y “Él mismo lo ordenó y todo fue creado” Génesis (1:9-13). Obra de carácter moralizante, es una de las creaciones más enigmáticas, complejas y bellas de El Bosco, realizada en la última etapa de su vida. Adquirida en la almoneda del prior don Fernando, hijo natural del gran duque de Alba, Felipe II la llevó a El Escorial en 1593.
Cracow Legend of Saint Stanislaus 01.jpg
Anonymous (Kraków or Nuremberg)Unknown author Creator:Albrecht Glim
, Licence: CC0
Master of Frankfurt (Maestro de Francfort), Sagrada Familia con ángel músico, Santa Catalina de Alejandría, Santa Bárbara, 1510-1520, Museo del Prado, Madrid..jpg
Master of Frankfurt, (Maestro de Francfort), Triptych: Sagrada Familia con ángel músico, Santa Catalina de Alejandría, Santa Bárbara, 1510-1520, Museo del Prado, Madrid