What is a triptych: 5 frequently asked questions

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A triptych consists of an artwork spread across three sections. This triptych structure has gained much acclaim in the art world as they collectively form a cohesive whole.

Recommendation: Explore our range of painting-by-number triptychs.

Whether they are large or small, triptychs can appear as connected panels or attached to the wall individually. They are versatile in use, suitable for various art forms such as painting, drawing and photography, and can serve to provide an impressive visual spectacle or unfold a narrative.

WHAT DOES A TRIPTYCH ENTAIL?

“Triptych” derives from the Greek term “triptykhos”, literally meaning “three-part”. At its core, it refers to a work of art divided into three segments.

In earlier times, triptychs were typical of altarpieces, consisting of a prominent central panel flanked by two smaller side panels on the inner sides of folding doors. Besides its practical application, this triptych also had a deep symbolic meaning, namely the Holy Trinity.

The conception of a triptych as a story with a beginning, middle and end is used by numerous artists, with each panel illustrating a stage of the story.

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WHY ARTISTS CHOOSE THE TRIPTYCH

Each artist has a unique approach to the three panels in a triptych. While some choose to create a continuous scene, others may treat each panel as a stand-alone image.

A triptych can be used by an artist for several reasons:

    1. To structure a story in the stages of a beginning, middle and end.
    2. To explore a central theme in triplicate.
    3. To approach a particular topic from various angles or with different styles.
    4. To show an evolution of a theme, such as its progression or regression.
    5. To highlight three inter-related aspects that make up a whole.
    6. To divide a bulky artwork for easier transport, storage and exhibition.

HOW TO CREATE A TRIPTYCH?

When designing a work of art made up of several segments, maintaining a cohesive feel is key. Without certain stylistic or technical elements linking the panels, the overall artwork may lack its power. It is crucial to use the triptych format thoughtfully to avoid confusion or excess.

Some common methods of ensuring coherence include maintaining an even horizon or background, a uniform colour palette, a unified approach to the main theme, or a continuous thematic thread.

The presentation method should also be uniform. For instance, it is advisable to use the same painting or drawing tools for all panels. For example, when painting, canvas and panel are often the choice; when drawing or painting on paper, consistency in material is essential. Even in photography, it is important to use the same print medium.

To ensure a coherent look, each part of the triptych should be placed in a similar frame and hung in an even manner.

TRADITIONS ARE THERE TO BE BROKEN

Although some artists choose to make all panels of equal size, others play with dimensions by, for example, flanking a wider central panel with narrower side panels. Traditionally, triptychs are placed horizontally and viewed sequentially from left to right. But with the right theme and design, a vertical configuration can also be impressive. Despite often playing with the width of panels, the height remains predominantly the same. However, with an appropriate central panel, side panels that are slightly shorter can still feel harmonious if positioned properly.

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