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A triptych ( , from the Greek τρίπτυχο, from tri- "three" + ptychē "fold") is a work of art (usually a panel painting) which is divided into three sections, or three carved panels which are hinged together and folded. 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 triptyches of equal-sized panels.

While the root of the word is the ancient Greek "triptychos", the word arose into the medieval period from the name for an Ancient Roman writing tablet, which had two hinged panels flanking a central one. The form can also be used for pendant jewelry.

In art

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 English Celtic churches in the west. Renaissance painter and sculptors such as Hans Memling and Hieronymus Bosch used the form.

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 Cathedralmarker. The Cathedral of Our Ladymarker in Antwerpmarker, Belgium, contains two examples by Rubens, and Notre Dame de Parismarker 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 most famous as a altarpiece form, tryptiches outside that context have been created, most prominently by Hieronymus Bosch, Max Beckmann, and Francis Bacon.Famous examples include:

An ancient means of writing

A triptych is also a hinged, three-leaved wood or wax tablet which in ancient times was written on with a stylus.

See also

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