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A triptych (// TRIP-tik; from the Greek adjective τρίπτυχον ("three-fold"), from tri, i.e., "three" and ptysso, i.e., "to fold" or ptyx, i.e., "fold") is a work of art (usually a panel painting) that 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. 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 highest price ever paid for an artwork at auction was $142.4 million for a 1969 triptych, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, by Francis Bacon. The form can also be used for pendant jewelry.
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 Celtic churches in the west. 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. One can also see the form echoed by the structure of many ecclesiastical stained glass windows. Although strongly identified as an altarpiece form, triptychs outside that context have been created, some of the best-known examples being works by Hieronymus Bosch, Max Beckmann, and Francis Bacon.
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