Altarpiece

Altarpiece

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An altarpiece is a picture or relief
Relief
Relief is a sculptural technique. The term relief is from the Latin verb levo, to raise. To create a sculpture in relief is thus to give the impression that the sculpted material has been raised above the background plane...

 representing a religious subject and suspended in a frame behind the altar
Altar
An altar is any structure upon which offerings such as sacrifices are made for religious purposes. Altars are usually found at shrines, and they can be located in temples, churches and other places of worship...

 of a church. The altarpiece is often made up of two or more separate panels created using a technique known as panel painting
Panel painting
A panel painting is a painting made on a flat panel made of wood, either a single piece, or a number of pieces joined together. Until canvas became the more popular support medium in the 16th century, it was the normal form of support for a painting not on a wall or vellum, which was used for...

. It is then called a diptych
Diptych
A diptych di "two" + ptychē "fold") is any object with two flat plates attached at a hinge. Devices of this form were quite popular in the ancient world, wax tablets being coated with wax on inner faces, for recording notes and for measuring time and direction.In Late Antiquity, ivory diptychs with...

, triptych
Triptych
A triptych , from tri-= "three" + ptysso= "to fold") is a work of art which is divided into three sections, or three carved panels which 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...

 or polyptych
Polyptych
A polyptych generally refers to a painting which is divided into sections, or panels. The terminology that follows is in relevance to the number of panels integrated into a particular piece of work: "diptych" describes a two-part work of art; "triptych" describes a three-part work; "tetraptych"...

 for two, three, and multiple panels respectively. In the thirteenth century each panel was usually surmounted with a pinnacle, but in the Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

, single panel, or pala, altarpieces became the norm. In both cases the supporting plinth, or predella often featured supplementary and related paintings. In the eighteenth century altarpieces, such as Piero della Francesca
Piero della Francesca
Piero della Francesca was a painter of the Early Renaissance. As testified by Giorgio Vasari in his Lives of the Artists, to contemporaries he was also known as a mathematician and geometer. Nowadays Piero della Francesca is chiefly appreciated for his art. His painting was characterized by its...

's polyptych of St Augustine, were often disassembled and seen as independent artworks.

If the altar stands free in the choir, both sides of the altarpiece can be covered with painting. The screen
Rood screen
The rood screen is a common feature in late medieval church architecture. It is typically an ornate partition between the chancel and nave, of more or less open tracery constructed of wood, stone, or wrought iron...

, retable
Retable
A retable is a framed altarpiece, raised slightly above the back of the altar or communion table, on which are placed the cross, ceremonial candlesticks and other ornaments....

 or reredos
Reredos
thumb|300px|right|An altar and reredos from [[St. Josaphat's Roman Catholic Church|St. Josaphat Catholic Church]] in [[Detroit]], [[Michigan]]. This would be called a [[retable]] in many other languages and countries....

 are commonly decorated.

Groups of statuary can also be placed on an altar. Sometimes the altarpiece is set on the altar itself and sometimes in front. Originally, the altarpiece was placed in front of the altar, with the priest standing behind it facing the congregation. In the 13th century, the altarpiece moved behind the altar, with the sacrament placed in front of it and the priest standing with his back to the congregation. This placement to behind the altar allowed the altarpiece to expand to larger proportions, as during the Renaissance.

Famous examples include:
  • the Byzantine
    Byzantine art
    Byzantine art is the term commonly used to describe the artistic products of the Byzantine Empire from about the 5th century until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453....

     Pala d'Oro
    Pala d'Oro
    Pala d’Oro is the high altar retable of the Basilica di San Marco in Venice. It is universally recognized as one of the most refined and accomplished works of Byzantine craftsmanship, with both front and rear sides decorated.-Description and history:The altarpiece consists of two parts...

     in the Basilica di San Marco, Venice
    Venice
    Venice is a city in northern Italy which is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. It is the capital of the Veneto region...

  • the Ghent Altarpiece
    Ghent Altarpiece
    The Ghent Altarpiece or Adoration of the Mystic Lamb is a very large and complex Early Netherlandish polyptych panel painting which is considered to be one of Belgium's masterpieces and one of the world's treasures.It was once in the Joost Vijdt chapel at Saint Bavo Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium, but...

     (1432) by Hubert
    Hubert van Eyck
    Hubert van Eyck was a Flemish painter and older brother of Jan van Eyck. He was probably born in Maaseik, Flanders, now in Belgium....

     and Jan van Eyck
    Jan van Eyck
    Jan van Eyck was a Flemish painter active in Bruges and considered one of the best Northern European painters of the 15th century....

  • the Isenheim Altarpiece
    Isenheim Altarpiece
    The Isenheim Altarpiece is an altarpiece painted by the German artist Matthias Grünewald in 1506-1515. It is on display at the Unterlinden Museum at Colmar, Alsace, now in France....

     by Matthias Grünewald
    Matthias Grünewald
    Matthias Grünewald or "Mathis" , "Gothart" or "Neithardt" , , was a German Renaissance painter of religious works, who ignored Renaissance classicism to continue the expressive and intense style of late medieval Central European art into the 16th century.Only ten paintings—several consisting...

  • the Altar of Veit Stoss
    Altar of Veit Stoss
    The Altarpiece of Veit Stoss , also St. Mary's Altar , is the largest Gothic altarpiece in the World and a national treasure of Poland. It is located behind the Communion table of St. Mary's Basilica, Kraków...


External links

  • http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/anatomy-of-an-altarpiece
  • http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/walker/collections/altarpiece/types_of_altarpiece.asp

See also


  • Altar
    Altar
    An altar is any structure upon which offerings such as sacrifices are made for religious purposes. Altars are usually found at shrines, and they can be located in temples, churches and other places of worship...

  • Diptych
    Diptych
    A diptych di "two" + ptychē "fold") is any object with two flat plates attached at a hinge. Devices of this form were quite popular in the ancient world, wax tablets being coated with wax on inner faces, for recording notes and for measuring time and direction.In Late Antiquity, ivory diptychs with...

  • Triptych
    Triptych
    A triptych , from tri-= "three" + ptysso= "to fold") is a work of art which is divided into three sections, or three carved panels which 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...

  • Polyptych
    Polyptych
    A polyptych generally refers to a painting which is divided into sections, or panels. The terminology that follows is in relevance to the number of panels integrated into a particular piece of work: "diptych" describes a two-part work of art; "triptych" describes a three-part work; "tetraptych"...

  • Church