Medieval Painting

Types of Painting


Shapes & Types of Panel

The shape and size of most fresco paintings are constrained by the shape and size of the wall available although in some cases, like the the Arena Chapel in Padua, painted by Giotto around 1305, it appears that the building was constructed in such a way as to provided the optimum layout for the planned fresco scheme.

in the case of panel painting the patron and/or artist had much more choice in the size and shape of the artwork and it was not the convention, as it is today, for a painted panel to be rectangular.

Popular shapes include

The Painted Cross

Ranging in size from small, less than a metre high, intended for private chapels and as a personal devotional objects though larger, generally 1-2 metre high for carrying in processions or display in larger religious building to much larger version which would have generally be attached to an altar or rood screen or suspended from the roof of a church.




A work produced on two panels. These may have been permanently joined together by these edges or hinged in some way so they could be closed like a book. Again these came in a range of sizes from the size of a small book, intended for private prayer and closing to protect the images on the insides of the panels when not in use, through large book-sized, suitable for placing on the altar of a small chapel to very large twin panel works which would probably have been permanently fixed to a wall. In this latter case they may or may not folded.



A three panel painting. Like a diptych these can be fixed or folding. This is a folding Triptych by Duccio which is now in the National Gallery, London. The two doors fold across and protect the image of the Madonna and Child




Polyptchs have many panels (generally mote than three.)

This one (The Badia Madonna by Giotto in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence) shows the Madonna and child with four saints.

Other shapes

Rectangular panels, of the type of shape and size we expect a painting today to be do exist from this period but in many cases these are simply parts of a larger medieval work which has been dissembled in later years as tastes changed. In many case you will be able to see the saw marks o the sides of the panel caused when the panel was split. Matching these marks,and the grain of the timber panel sometimes allows art historians to determine that two individual panels were at one time joined.