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A diptych (pronounced /ˈdɪptɪk/, from the Greek δίπτυχον,[1] from di- "two" + ptychē "fold") is any object with two flat plates attached at a hinge. Devices of this form were quite popular in the ancient world, wax tablets being coated with wax on inner faces, for recording notes and for measuring time and direction. The term is also used figuratively for a thematically-linked sequence of two books.[citation needed]

In Late Antiquity, ivory diptychs with covers carved in low relief on the outer faces were a significant art-form: the "consular diptych" was made to celebrate an individual's becoming Roman consul, but some, perhaps including the Poet and Muse diptych at Monza, may have been made for private use. Some of the most important surviving works of the Late Roman Empire are diptychs, of which some dozens survive, preserved in some instances by being reversed and re-used as book covers. The largest surviving Byzantine ivory panel (428 mm x 143mm), is a leaf from a diptych in the Justinian court manner of ca 525-50, which features an archangel.[2]

From the Middle Ages many panel paintings took the diptych form, as small portable works for personal use; large altarpieces tended to be made in triptych form, with two outer panels that could be closed across the main central representation. These are discussed with other multi-panel forms of painting at Polyptych.




It is in this form that the mention of "diptychs" in early Christian literature is found. The term refers to official lists of the living and departed that are commemorated by the local church. The living would be inscribed on one wing of the diptych, and the departed on the other. The inscribing of a bishop's name in the diptychs means that the local church considers itself to be in communion with him, the removal of a bishop's name would indicate breaking communion with him. The names in the diptychs would be read publicly by the deacon during the Divine Liturgy (Eucharist), and by the priest during the Liturgy of Preparation. Diptychs were also used to inscribe the names of the saints. Although the wax tablets themselves are no longer used, the term is still used in the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches to describe the contents of the diptychs, with all the same connotations.

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