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date: 21 September 2019


  • Victor M. Schmidt


Term used to define a picture consisting of three parts and denoting both the object itself and its compositional form. As an object the triptych may vary in size and material, but usually consists of a central panel flanked by wings (or shutters), which may be hinged; as a compositional form it is a tripartite structure, often with an emphasized central element. Although its imagery was, until the 19th century at least, predominantly religious, the object as such was not tied to a specific function.

Although the noun triptychon seems to be a relatively modern neologism, triptychs did exist in antiquity as cult images, portraits and independent paintings. The two main functions of the wings, protection and limiting the times when the inside could be viewed, are evident at this early stage. Among the earliest surviving triptychs with Christian imagery are early Byzantine painted icons, middle Byzantine ivories and reliquaries of the Holy Cross. The exterior of these icons and ivories is plain or decorated with a cross. One such reliquary, incorporated in the ...

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