Catholic Encyclopedia – Altarpiece

black marble altar and altar piece by Alessandro Vittoria, c.1600; Chapel of the Crucifix, Church of Saints John and Paul, Venice, Italy; photographed on 13 May 2015 by Didier Descouens; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

A picture of some sacred subject painted on the wall or suspended in a frame behind the altar, or a group of statuary on the altar. In the Middle Ages, instead of a picture or group, the altar-piece consisted in some churches of embossed silver or gold and enamelled work set with jewels. Sometimes the piece was set on the altar itself. If the altar stood free in the choir, and the altar-piece was to be seen from behind as well as from before, both sides were covered with painting. The decorated screen, retable or reredos is also called an altarpiece.

MLA Citation

  • Augustin Joseph Schulte. “Altarpiece”. Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907. CatholicSaints.Info. 26 October 2018. Web. 26 May 2019. <>