Saturday, December 5, 2009


The above image is of the most famous of Byzantine Ivory triptychs: The Harberville Triptych. Triptychs arose in early Christian art and were generally were three panels with the center larger and the sides folded in to protect the work from dusty cathedrals. The word triptych, often spelled triptic these days, comes from the Greek τρίπτυχο, from tri- "three" + ptychē "fold".

Triptychs don't necessarily fold any more. Nor are they limited to religious subjects. And the size of the panels is more open. Francis Bacon did the triptych below and all the panels are of the same size. And not hinged.

It there are rules these days they are a lot looser. It does have to be three. And the three must look good together and also individually. With the above triptych each painting is a stand alone work of art.

I like this one hanging together but I don't know of the left panel could stand alone because unlike the center and right one it has no strong focus.

And the above triptych is really three paintings displayed together. There is no "overlap" of image from one to the other. They are merely all of one pallet with repetitive motifs and similar theme.

So, why all this discussion of triptychs? Because I plan on painting one. I am leaning toward the larger panel in the center because I like the sense of balance that contributes. And I want the three panels together to look like one painting as in the middle example. But I also want all three panels to be a painting within themselves.

It is a lot more difficult than it seems at first blush. So now on to picking a subject; most likely canyons or arches. And then working on the sketch. It will govern the porportions of my canvases.


  1. I became mesmerised by these when visiting the Chinese Art Museum in Beijing. I know so little of triptychs, which is a word I can also barely spell. :) Yet, I wonder if it might be a cultural thing, at least with Eastern thought, and in keeping with an idea that life is perceived as a 'river flowing'. (This is how the Chinese explained their driving practises to me as well. Even seeing is not believing - LOL.)

    The best of luck with your project. I would think it interesting, challenging and frustrating!

  2. You can always spell it triptic which is easier but not so educated.

    I wonder if it has more to do with the impermanence of churches at that era. No telling when the next evading horde was coming over the town walls. The triptych could be folded up and taken away easily. Santos of that period in Spain had lavish cases they fit into. Traveling cases?

    Or there is the revealed truth concept. It was the priest that opened the triptych or the case on the santo to reveal to his congregation the glory of the word.

  3. Lovely blog, Jacqui! Good luck with the painting of the triptych and I look forward to seeing it posted up in your blog when you finish.

    I have done a very large triptych on the History of Medicine and it was fun to paint, although lots of hard work!


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