Winged altarpiece

A winged altarpiece (also folding altar) or winged retable is a special form of altarpiece (reredos, occasionally retable), common in Central Europe, in which the fixed shrine or corpus can be enclosed by two (triptych), four (pentaptych) or more (polyptych) movable wings. The technical terms are derived from Ancient Greek: τρίς: trís or "triple"; πέντε: pénte or "five"; πολύς: polýs or "many"; and πτυχή: ptychē or "fold, layer".[1]

Krakow High Altar by Veit Stoß: wings with reliefs and altar shrine with wood carvings
Winged altar of St. Wolfgang's Church in Schneeberg: painted panels
1540 Gotha panel altar with 157 individual scenes, displayed in the Ducal Museum in Gotha

Because the winged altar can display different scenes on weekdays, Sundays or holidays, based on the motifs and type of decoration (painted panels or reliefs), it is also called a liturgical altar.

An altarpiece is often mounted on the altar shrine, but more usually it has a carving (carved altar). Above the retable may be found the crowning or superstructure, pinnacles and flowers of the cross. Relics can be housed below it, in a reliquary in the predella lying on the altar stone.



  • Herbert Schindler: The Schnitzaltar. Meisterwerke und Meister in Süddeutschland, Österreich und Südtirol. Verlag Friedrich Pustet, Regensburg 1978. ISBN 3-7917-0754-X
  • Karl-Werner Bachmann, Géza Jászai, Friedrich Kobler, Catheline Périer-D'Ieteren, Barbara Rommé, Norbert Wolf: Flügelretable, in: Reallexikon zur Deutschen Kunstgeschichte, Vol. 9, 2003, ISBN 3-406-14009-2, cols. 1450–1536.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Wilhelm Gemoll (1965), Griechisch-Deutsches Schul- und Handwörterbuch (in German), München/Wien: G. Freytag Verlag/Hölder-Pichler-Tempsky

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