What is altarpiece?

What Does altarpiece Mean

The etymology of the term altarpiece leads us to the Latin retaulus , in turn formed by two other words: retro ( “back” ) and tabŭla ( “table” ). At present the word altarpiece is usually used with reference to a decorative element that is part of the altar .

It should be remembered that the altar, in Catholic churches, is the consecrated table or table that the priest uses to officiate the mass. The altarpiece is the architectural element that is located behind it and that can display paintings , sculptures and other decoration components .
The altarpieces can be made of stone , wood , metal or other materials. In some cases, they are carved and show figures in relief. In others, they provide support for the display of the canvases.

The altarpieces are often divided into different bodies that are separated from each other, horizontally, by moldings. The different vertical sections that create the columns or pilasters, meanwhile, are known as streets .
Supported on a bench so as not to come into contact with the possible humidity of the soil, the altarpieces are usually crowned with a representation of Calvary or God in their upper part.
The retablos articulated , on the other hand, can be opened and closed. This allows them to adopt two different representations.
Undoubtedly, many are the altarpieces that have become fundamental pieces in the history of art due to their quality, their originality or because they are key works of some of the most important authors in the world. However, among the most special and praised are the following:

-Retablo "Pala d´Oro". Dating from the 10th century, it is part of what is Byzantine goldsmithing and is located in the Basilica of San Marcos in Venice. It was enlarged on several occasions, causing it to have a remarkable Gothic style to some extent.

-Major altarpiece of the Cathedral of Seville. The Flemish sculptor Pedro Dancart was the one who, at the end of the 15th century, proceeded to undertake the realization of this work that, at present, is considered the most imposing and valuable in Christendom. Almost a century required its completion, which led to the participation of other illustrious artists such as Jorge Fernández Alemán or Juan Bautista Vázquez el Viejo. A total of 45 scenes give shape to it, taking special prominence "The Ascension of Christ", "The Assumption of the Virgin" or "The Birth of Jesus".

-Aretable of the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. The famous Flemish brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck are the authors of this work, also known as the “Polyptych of Ghent”, which is in the Church of Saint John of Ghent. It is one of the most famous and important altarpieces in history and is made up of twelve oil panels.

Beyond this typical element of Catholic churches, an altarpiece can also be a small stage that is used to represent works using puppets . The term is also used to name the set of figures that, arranged in series, allow a story to be told .

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