A painted or sculpted panel that either stands on the altar of a church or hangs above it, its primary function being to serve as visual focus during meditation or prayer. Altarpieces created in Italy during the 14th and 15th centuries often have multiple panels that can be opened and closed, as well as pinnacles that imitate the Gothic architectural vocabulary and a predella. An example of this is Pietro Lorenzetti's Virgin and Child with Saints, Annunciation, and Assumption painted for the Pieve di Santa Maria in Arezzo (1320). The Northern examples of the same period can be quite complicated, and open in a series of stages to reveal the interior scenes, as in, for example, Matthias Grünewald 's Isenheim Altarpiece (fin. 1515; Colmar, Musée d'Unterlinden). These polyptychs, as they are called, were usually painted in grisaille in the exterior and with brilliant colors in the interior to add a sense of awe when opened during feast days. In Spain, altarpieces are called retables (in Spanish, retablos) and have panels that remain opened and are often contained in heavy sculptural frames. By the 16th and 17th centuries in Italy, these complex formats were rejected in favor of representations on a single field. In the North, they continued for a longer period, with Peter Paul Rubens' Elevation of the Cross for the Church of St. Walburga in Antwerp (1610-1611), providing an early 17th-century example.
   See also San Zeno altarpiece, Verona; St. Lucy altarpiece; Triptych.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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  • Altarpiece — • A picture of some sacred subject painted on the wall or suspended in a frame behind the altar, or a group of statuary on the altar Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Altarpiece     Altarpiece …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Altarpiece — Al tar*piece , n. The painting or piece of sculpture above and behind the altar; reredos. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • altarpiece — ► NOUN ▪ a painting or other work of art set above and behind an altar …   English terms dictionary

  • altarpiece — [ôl′tərpēs΄] n. an ornamental carving, painting, etc. above and behind an altar …   English World dictionary

  • altarpiece — /awl teuhr pees /, n. a painted or carved screen behind or above the altar or communion table in Christian churches; reredos. [1635 45; ALTAR + PIECE] * * * Painting, relief, sculpture, screen, or decorated wall standing on or behind an altar in… …   Universalium

  • Altarpiece — An altarpiece is a picture or relief representing a religious subject and suspended in a frame behind the altar of a church. The altarpiece is often made up of two or more separate panels created using a technique known as panel painting. It is… …   Wikipedia

  • altarpiece — [[t]ɔ͟ːltə(r)piːs[/t]] altarpieces N COUNT An altarpiece is a work of art behind the altar in a church …   English dictionary

  • altarpiece — noun Date: 1644 a work of art that decorates the space above and behind an altar …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • altarpiece — noun a work of art suspended above and behind an altar in a church …   Wiktionary

  • altarpiece — Synonyms and related words: Communion table, abstract, abstraction, altar, altar carpet, altar desk, altar facing, altar of prothesis, altar rail, altar side, altar slab, altar stair, altar stone, ancona, block print, bomos, chancel table,… …   Moby Thesaurus

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