Secondary Meanings Figural Diptychs


by Steven Alan Bennett and Dr. Elaine Schmidt

The multi-panel work of art, usually a diptych or triptych, provides enormous creative opportunities for visual artists because it supplies expansive and varied ways for an artist to speak using juxtaposition, contrast, comparison, expansion, connection and separation. From the Roman Empire to today, artists both known and unknown have used the multi-panel work to make statements that are both subtle and obvious, complementary and conflicting.

The earliest known diptychs were not works of art but government “letters of appointment” carved on opposing ivory panels connected by a hinge. These were given either as symbol of office or as a gift to the officeholder’s supporters. Since these items frequently had to travel long distances, the idea of two pieces was driven in part by the need to have the operative sides of the panels protected from wear and tear by closing them upon themselves. This way, the backs of the carvings took the brunt of the wear while protecting the delicate faces of the panels. Later, pilgrims and other travelers picked up on this idea and created the “traveling diptych,” two works of religiously themed art, usually on wood panels, connected by a hinge and able to close over one another face-to-face for easy carry. Thus, the classical art history definition of a “diptych” is two different images connected by a hinge.

By late medieval times, multi-panel works were used as altarpieces and often morphed into three (“triptych”) or more (“polytych”) panels. In these instances, the panels always have a theme that ties the various images together, or the panels are extensions of the same image or different views of the same subject. Common examples include Hieronymous Bosch, “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” Jan van Eyck, “The Crucifixion and Last Judgment,” Robert Campin, “The Merode Altarpiece,” and “The Wilton Diptych.”

In modern times, the hinge has fallen away and the notion that the two (or more) works must be physically connected has been relaxed. So, today, the diptych definition is less restrictive: “a piece of art in two pieces” or “two pieces of art intended to be hung together in close proximity.” A great example is Warhol’s “Marilyn Diptych” which is two different silkscreen prints that are thematically similar and hung side-by-side. Other examples of the diptych in modern times include Francis Bacon’s “Double Take,” Mark Laita’s photo portrait series “Created Equal,” and Erin Anderson’s “Karen Looking, Heather Hiding.”

This issue of PoetsArtists and the accompanying exhibition seeks the “multi-panel” artwork of all artists, regardless of age, race, creed, color or gender. Included within the call are diptychs, triptychs and polytychs (images with more than three panels). Acceptable media includes painting, prints, drawing, and photography. In addition, sculpture is included within the call if it includes two or more different pieces that are thematically related and make sense when exhibited together. In all cases (both two-dimensional work as well as sculpture), it is a requirement that a human figure must be prominently depicted in one or more of the panels or pieces. Also, it is a requirement of the call that all submitted art be new work. “New work” means that the work may not be previously exhibited or shown, whether on the Internet or otherwise. Any work that appears on the Internet prior to publication by PoetsArtists, whether Facebook, Instagram or any other social media site or webpage, will be disqualified. Also, painting over photographs is not acceptable.

All artwork must be available to sell throughout the time-frame of the exhibition at the Zhou B Art Center in Chicago.


Artists accepted to be exhibited are responsible for shipping to the Zhou B Art Center and return shipping as well if the work does not sell. The Zhou B Art Center will provide an artist agreement which needs to be signed and returned before the exhibition. Works which are different than the images originally accepted will not be accepted and shown and will be returned to the artist at their expense. Artists are responsible for any insurance coverage for their work.

Read the full guidelines here and copy and paste onto a new text file stating that you have read and understood how to submit new work, images and text files. Place the text file in your folder along with the rest of the materials. We prefer to use Dropbox.