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Diptych

The word diptych originates from Greek root words di, meaning “two,” and ptykhos, meaning “fold or layer.” It refers to a two-paneled object, typically joined together or displayed adjoining each other. Diptychs can be a singular piece of artwork that portrays separate scenes, connected through visual coherence, or a single scene that continues over two panels. During the Greco-Roman and Byzantine Periods, diptychs were used as writing tablets, portrait sculptures, votive offerings, and commemorative inscriptions.

Diptychs were adopted as devotional objects with religious iconography during the early Christian and Byzantine periods, and continued as sacred artwork during the Middle Ages and onwards. Throughout history, artists have created diptychs for various purposes and in different styles. Their versatile structure enables artists to amplify their impact with appealing visuals and powerful storytelling.

Gerard David
The Judgement of Cambyses, 1498
Oil on wood
202 x 349.5 cm (79.52 x 137.59 in.)
Groeningemuseum, Bruges, Belgium

Gerard David was a Dutch artist from the Northern Renaissance period and one of the leading painters in Bruges, Belgium. He was known for painting atmospheric scenes, often of scriptural themes, through his use of color and technical precision. One of his few non-religious works is The Judgement of Cambyses (1498), an intriguing diptych that features tyranny and injustice.

The painting is an oil-on-wood diptych that depicts a tale in which Sisamnes, a corrupt judge, is ordered by King Cambyses to be skinned alive. The use of the diptych format allowed David to convey a sequence of events: Sisamnes is arrested for his crimes on the left, and as a result, he is brutally and publicly punished on the right. Having the two panels side by side, the structure produces a dynamic visual narrative and an interactive element, inviting viewers to consider the relationship between the two scenes. The Judgement of Cambyses was commissioned to be displayed in a courthouse, serving as a warning and reminder to judges to strive for justice.

In the modern context, Andy Warhol used the diptych format to explore mass media and consumer culture and craft innovative and thought-provoking works of art. Warhol’s famous 1962 Marilyn Diptych consists of repetitions of the actress’s face over two panels. Warhol used a publicity photograph from her 1953 film Niagara and silk screened it fifty times using multiple colors. By employing this technique and format, Warhol comments on the idolization and omnipresence of Marilyn Monroe. The juxtaposition of the vibrant images of Marilyn Monroe on the left, and her fading grayscale images on the right adds more depth by highlighting the star’s mortality and the transitory nature of fame.

Andy Warhol
Marilyn Diptych, 1962
Silkscreen ink and acrylic paint on 2 canvases
205.4 x 144.8 cm (80.86 x 57 in.)
© 2023 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London
In the permanent collection of Tate Modern, London

Related categories

Painting

Photography

Oil Painting

Symbolic Images/Objects

Portrait Painting

Repetition/Patterns

Narrative Art

Popular Culture Images

Color and Form

Mass Media Images

Consumerism

Panel

Oil on Wood

(Inspired by) Religion

Acrylic Paint

Dutch Art

Silkscreen Print

Balanced Composition

15th Century Art

Soft and Meticulous Brushstrokes

Triptych

Renaissance Art