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Home >> Painting Trivia >> Altarpiece



An altarpiece can be defined as a picture depicting a religious subject. An altarpiece generally remains suspended in a frame behind the altar of a church. The altarpiece is often composed of two or more separate panels created using a technique called panel painting. The altarpiece can also be set on the altar itself. When the altarpiece stands free both sides of it can be covered by painting. Even the screen, retable and reredos are also beautifully adorned. It may be mentioned here that in the Middle Ages, the altarpiece consisted in some churches of embossed silver or gold and enameled work ornamented with jewels.


Famous examples of altar pieces- Below are names of some the famous altarpieces.
  • The Byzantine Pala d'Oro in Basilica di San Marco, Venice
  • The Ghent Altarpiece by Hubert and Jan van Eyck
  • The Altar of Veit Stoss
  • Madonna and child enthroned with saints altarpiece by Raphael
  • The Altarpiece of Passion by Flanders
  • The Paumgartner altarpiece by Albrecht Durer
  • Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald
  • The Swansea Altarpiece By Eleanor Townsend
  • Baronci Altarpiece by Raphael

Famous books on altarpieces- Some of the famous books altarpieces are as follows-
  • Great Altarpieces: Gothic and Renaissance by Caterina Virdis Limentani, Mari Pietogiovanna
  • The History of Italian Renaissance Art by David G. Wilkins'
In this technology driven world a new concept of digital reconstruction have come into being to protect and preserve the original glory of century-old altarpieces that have been spoiled or stripped into pieces or even sold to museums and private buyers around the world. Some of the digitally constructed works as follows-
  • "The San Marco Altarpiece" by Fra Angelico
  • The Maestà Altarpiece" by Duccio di Buoninsegna
  • Castagno's "Famous Men and Illustrious Women Cycle"

16th-19th century proved to be a crucial period when huge works of art like altarpieces were destroyed along with other Church treasuries dating back to the Middle Ages. They were left uncared for in museum show cases or in domestic settings awaiting patiently the stares of the curious. Till the third quarter of the 19th century medieval objects were regarded only as valuable sources of information but were not admired for their artistic value. However, things changed after the political turmoil of the French Revolution when people felt that they are living in a godless and materialistic age and consequently took recourse to reinventing the Middle Ages as an age symbolizing everything that was lacking in their own time.

The famous altarpieces depicting personages', saints and biblical subjects give a glimpse of the lost world when churches were alight with color and glitter. Sometimes the altarpieces were deigned for local use sometimes they were exported all around the world. Most of the altarpieces were extremely large only few of them were produced on a miniature scale. Small altarpieces were generally intended for private use. The famous altarpieces are great works of art that continues to inspire awe amongst the art lovers across borders.

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