The beautiful triptych altarpiece that we display as a part of the historic Trinity Lutheran Church, Altenburg collection is a magnificent piece of German religious art. German Kanzelaltar pieces are works of church art. A retable altar piece sets on the altar and consists of painted or sculpted panels on wood or vellum (animal skin) in the diptych (two), triptych (three), or polyptych (multiple) style.
The other type of altarpiece common before and during the Reformation were reredos. They rose from the ground to above the altar like this:
Many wealthy homes had chapels with altarpieces, and the diptychs and triptychs could be easily folded for travel. Sometimes the pieces were unpainted or like the tryptic we have on display, they were polychrome painted with vibrant colors.
There are altarpieces illustrating our Lutheran heritage like this work by the renowned Luther portrait artist, Cranach: depicticting on the left, Philipp Melanchthon performing a baptism with Luther’s assistance; the middle panel depicts The Last Supper with Luther amongst the Aposles; and the right panel depicts Luther’s confession. The original retable was a polyptych and included a lower panel of Luther’s 1547 sermon in Wittenberg.
The beautiful Trinity Altenburg triptych is one of my favorite pieces to display at the Lutheran Heritage Center each Christmas season. Much of it’s history is lost. We do know it came from Germany. We know it is thin, beautifully painted vellum. We know that canvas single panel art commonly replaced these altar pieces in Germany in the mid to late 1500’s. More research is definitely in order for this remarkable piece of church art history.
The beautiful Christmas exhibit at the Lutheran Heritage Center will be on display until Jan. 15 from 10-4 most days. I will be at the museum for my traditional Dec. 24th time from 10am-Noon. Please come and see me. I would love to personally wish you a Merry Christmas.
We will close Christmas Day. Take care, Carla Jordan