Definition: Polyptych

Definition: Polyptych | Glossary entry


Prounounced “Polyp’tik”, this is a word dating back to 1899 – according to the Oxford English Dictionary   External link - opens new tab/page.

Originally, a polyptych was a religious piece on an alter which had four or more hinged panels. Each panel displayed a relief or painting. Today photographers use the term to describe a photo-story; a themed photographic sequence or a group of pictures with something in common. In all cases there are four or more pictures.

A polyptych may be presented as one picture with four or more images within it. Alternatively it could be four or more linked pictures presented close to one another – for example framed on the same wall or separately mounted in the same frame.

A polyptych is NOT distinct from a Quadtrych, a new term which describes a group of only four linked pictures.

A polyptych can contain many pictures. It is unlikely to be hundreds or thousands, there are practical limits to how many grouped pictures can be put together without them becoming other things. For example very many pictures could be a gallery, a timelapse sequence, a collection, a collage, a photographic mosaic, or may be described by other collective nouns. Since the word derives from times of hand-painted altar pieces we can assume in practice the numbers of pictures in a polyptych would be limited. It is uncommon to have more than ten images in a polyptych format, frame or picture. Large numbers of images in one picture are uncommon in photographic competitions. However, there are some famous examples of polypych presentations. Andy Warhol External link - opens new tab/page the artist was a celebrated master of the format. Many of his famous works are multiple colour versions of the same image External link - opens new tab/page.

Some examples:
An example of five images in one picture as a photostory… External link - opens new tab/page
Multiple portraits (18) in one photograph External link - opens new tab/page.