The Merode Altarpiece, attributed to the workshop of Robert Campin, c. 1427–32
Dreikönigsaltar by Hans Pleydenwurff.1460-1465
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) 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.[1]


The word triptych was formed in English by compounding the prefix tri- with the word diptych.[2] Diptych is borrowed from the Latin diptycha, which itself is derived from the Late Greek δίπτυχα (díptycha) 'pair of writing tablets'. δίπτυχα is the neuter plural of δίπτυχος (díptychos) 'double-folded'.[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

  • Diptych – Two-part polyptych
  • Polyptych – Painting divided into multiple panels
  • Polyvision – Widescreen film format
  • Three hares – Motif of three hares in threefold rotational symmetry


  1. ^ "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.
  2. ^ "triptych, n.". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/OED/2659890662. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  3. ^ "diptych, n.". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/OED/1119971632. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  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. doi:10.1086/698334. S2CID 195041325.
  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.