Just what is a Diptych and Triptych?


By: Marcella Hayes Muhammad / Artist

The illustration on the left is one of the Original Diptych paintings from my Maruvian Mask series that began with the upper canvas as a small work project. The lower half is the continuation of that series that came a year later to complete the image. I think they work well together and add another dimension to the work. I use my signature style of Plastic Space abstraction to enhance the inspiration of using ancient masks from around the world. This technique has created a very unique and one of a kind series that will be very striking on a gallery or museum wall. Perhaps even on some of your walls if you have room. So far, I have 12 diptych’s available. The size of each is 10″ x 30″. I had several people ask me just what is a diptych and thought it would be nice to post this information to keep my readers abreast of “art speak”. FYI, the diptych is sold as one painting.

Diptych, pronounced “dip-tik”, the original meaning is a painting, especially an altarpiece, on two hinged wooden panels that may be closed like a book. Very simply, a diptych is a drawing or painting in two parts. The format of the pictures may be landscape or portrait, but they will usually be the same size. It is sometimes a continuous but divided image, or may be composed of separate, closely related images. Artists sometimes create a diptych, a series of two panels or canvases that are meant to be displayed together as one piece on the walls of a gallery.

The word diptych comes from the Greek root ‘dis’, meaning two, and ‘ptykhe’, meaning ‘fold’, and was the name of the folding writing tablets used in Roman times.

TriptychTriptych, pronounced Trip-tik, is also from a Greek root. Artists sometimes create a series of three panels that are meant to be displayed together. You can use the noun triptych to describe three paintings that are deliberately hung together, as one piece, on the walls of an art gallery.

Today however, there are artists who have taken this multiple canvas painting to another level and can have 6 or more canvases to make one image and hung together on the wall of a gallery. It is a clever way to have a large space occupied by art but easy to manage in its multiple parts. I have seen a work done by one artist that incorporated 16 small canvases to form a portrait that was at least 8 ft. by 10 ft. on a gallery wall.  HUGE!! This is not the same as a wall painting or street art, as it is meant to hang indoors in all of its individual parts. The image above is an example of a triptych, “Soulful Strings and Percussion” where the two anchor images  both reflect the fertility that comes from the spirit of the ancestors cultivating the intelligence of creativity and expression in the arts. the size of this triptych is 78″ x 30″. This triptych is sold as one painting.

The next time you visit a gallery or museum, see how many diptych’s or triptych’s you might notice.



Marcella is a visual artist that made a leap of faith in 1995 and took an early retirement from a successful elementary teaching career of 27 years. She and her husband moved from California to the Atlanta area to continue as a full time artist. She has a formal education in the arts, and has been a creative visual artist for over 40 years.

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