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For other uses, see Triptych (disambiguation).
Master of Frankfurt, Sagrada Familia con ángel músico, Santa Catalina de Alejandría, Santa Bárbara, 1510–1520, Museo del Prado, Madrid. With the 2008 acquisition of the Holy Family (the central piece, formerly at the convento dominico de Santa Cruz in Segovia) the Prado completed the triptych by the Master of Frankfurt, separated since 1836.

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.

Despite its connection to an art format, the term is sometimes used more generally to connote anything with three parts, particularly if they are integrated into a single unit.[3]

In art[edit]

The Verdun Altar in Klosterneuburg Monastery
Video about the Norfolk Triptych (anonymous, 1415–1420), an early Dutch triptych at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.

The triptych form arises from 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. 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. One can also see the form echoed by the structure of many ecclesiastical stained glass windows. Although strongly identified as an altarpiece form, triptychs outside that context have been created, some of the best-known examples being works by Hieronymus Bosch, Max Beckmann, and Francis Bacon.

The then highest price ever paid for an artwork at auction was $142.4 million for a 1969 triptych, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, by Francis Bacon in November 2012.[4] The record was broken in May 2015 by $179.4 million for Pablo Picasso's 1955 painting Les Femme d’Algers.[5]

The format has migrated and been used in other religions, including Islam and Buddhism. For example: the triptych Hilje-j-Sherif displayed National Museum of Oriental Art, Rome Italy; and a page of the Qu'ran at the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts in Istanbul, Turkey, exemplify Ottoman religious art adapting the motif.[6] Likewise, Tibetan Buddhists have used it in traditional altars.[7]

In photography[edit]

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.[8][9]


See also[edit]


  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. ^ Vogel, Carol (November 12, 2013). "Bacon's Study of Freud Sells for $142.4 Million". New York Times. Retrieved November 12, 2013. 
  5. ^ A History Of Insane Art Prices Retrieved 16 November 2015.
  6. ^ 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. Retrieved January 28, 2017. 
  7. ^ 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 1577314670. ISBN 978-1577314677. Retrieved January 28, 2017. 
  8. ^ Photo Answers Magazine 9 April 2009, Michael Topham
  9. ^ Digital Photography School: Diptychs & Triptychs – 5 Prime Examples Elizabeth Halford

External links[edit]