A retable is a structure or element placed either on or immediately behind and above the altar or communion table[1] of a church. At the minimum it may be a simple shelf for candles behind an altar, but it can also be a large and elaborate structure. A retable which incorporates sculptures or painting is often referred to as an altarpiece.

According to the Getty Art & Architecture Thesaurus Online, "A 'retable' is distinct from a 'reredos'; while the reredos typically rises from ground level behind the altar, the retable is smaller, standing either on the back of the altar itself or on a pedestal behind it. Many altars have both a reredos and a retable."[2] This distinction is not always upheld in common use, and the terms are often confused or used as synonyms. In several foreign languages, such as French (also using 'retable'), the usage is different, usually equating the word with the English 'reredos' or 'altarpiece', and this often leads to confusion, and incorrect usage in translated texts. The Medieval Latin retrotabulum (modernized retabulum) was applied to an architectural feature set up at the back of an altar, and generally taking the form of a screen framing a picture, carved or sculptured work in wood or stone, or mosaic, or of a movable feature such as the Pala d'Oro in St Mark's Basilica, Venice, of gold, jewels and enamels.[1] The non-English word "retable" therefore often refers to what should in English be called a reredos.[1] The situation is further complicated by the frequent modern addition of free-standing altars in front of the old integrated altar, to allow the celebrant to face the congregation, or be closer to it.

Dossal' is another term that may overlap with both retable and reredos; today it usually means an altarpiece painting rising at the back of the altar to which it is attached, or a cloth usually hanging on the wall directly behind the altar.

The cognate Spanish term, retablo, refers also to a reredos or retrotabulum, although in the specific context of Mexican folk art it may refer to any two-dimensional depiction (usually a framed painting) of a saint or other Christian religious figure, as contrasted with a bulto, a three-dimensional statue of same.

The retable may hold the altar cross, mostly in Protestant churches, as well as candles, flowers and other things.

St John's Church, Allerston - Interior - - 495774
A simple shelf retable in Yorkshire
Eglise Saint-Ayoul Provins retable maitre-autel
On one strict definition, this French 17th-century construction is a retable rather than a reredos, as it is all one construction


  1. ^ a b c  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Retable" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 23 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 201.
  2. ^ Art & Architecture Thesaurus Online 'Retable'

Ambrugeat (Occitan: Ambrujac) is a commune in the Corrèze department in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of central France.

The inhabitants of the commune are known as Ambrugeacois or Ambrugeacoises


Apchon is a commune in the Cantal department in the Auvergne region of south-central France.

The inhabitants of the commune are known as Apchonnais or Apchonnaises.


Arrelles is a commune in the Aube department in the Grand Est region of northern-central France.

The inhabitants of the commune are known as Arrellois or Arrelloises


Arrien-en-Bethmale is a commune in the Ariège department in the Occitanie region of south-western France.

The inhabitants of the commune are known as Arrienois or Arrienoises


Asasp-Arros (Occitan: Asasp Arròs) is a commune in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of south-western France.

The inhabitants of the commune are known as Asaspois or Asaspoises.


Aydie is a commune in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of south-western France.

Bernat Martorell

Bernat Martorell (died 1452 in Barcelona) was the leading painter of Barcelona, in modern-day Spain. He is considered to be the most important artist of the International Gothic style in Catalonia. Martorell painted retable panels and manuscript illuminations, and carved sculptures and also provided designs for embroideries.

Buhl, Haut-Rhin

Buhl (German: Bühl) is a commune in the Haut-Rhin department in Grand Est in north-eastern France.

It inhabitants are called Buhlois (male) or Buhloises (female).

Buhl Altarpiece

The Buhl Altarpiece (French: Retable de Buhl) is a late 15th-century, Gothic altarpiece of colossal dimensions now kept in the parish church Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste of Buhl in the Haut-Rhin département of France. It was painted by followers of Martin Schongauer, most probably for the convent of the Dominican sisters of Saint Catherine of Colmar, and moved to its present location in the early 19th century. It is classified as a Monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture (see below, History).

The altarpiece depicts five scenes from the Passion of Jesus, four scenes from the Life of the Virgin, and a Last Judgment.

Church of Saint Ildefonso

The Igreja de Santo Ildefonso is an eighteenth-century church in Porto, Portugal. The church is located near Batalha Square.

Completed in 1739, the church was built in a proto-Baroque style and features a retable by the Italian artist Nicolau Nasoni and a façade of 1932 azulejo tilework. The church is named in honour of the Visigoth, Ildephonsus of Toledo, bishop of Toledo from 657 until his death in 667.

Hamilton Kerr Institute

The Hamilton Kerr Institute is a branch of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridgeshire, England, dedicated to the study and conservation of easel paintings. It is also part of the University of Cambridge.


Lampaul-Guimiliau (Breton: Lambaol-Gwimilio) is a commune in the Finistère department and administrative region of Brittany in north-western France. It is noted for its parish close.

Les Useres

Les Useres (Valencian: [lez uˈzeɾes]) (known in Spanish as Useras (Spanish: [uˈseɾas]) is a municipality in the comarca of Alcalatén in the Valencian Community, Spain. In August 2007, 120 residents had to be evacuated as a result of a forest fire.


A reredos ( REER-dos, REER-ih-, RERR-ih-) is a large altarpiece, a screen, or decoration placed behind the altar in a church. It often includes religious images.


Tauste (Aragonese: Taust) is a municipality located in the province of Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain.

Sights include the Mudéjar church of Santa María, begun in the late 13th century and finished in the 14th century. It has an octagonal tower, a Baroque retable (16th century) and a Renaissance retable of the Coronation of Mary.

Thornham Parva

Thornham Parva is a village and civil parish in the Mid Suffolk district of Suffolk in eastern England. Located to the north of sister village Thornham Magna and around five miles south of Diss, in 2005 its population was 50. By the time of the 2011 Census populations of less than 100 were not maintained separately and this village was included in the population of Thornham Magna.

The small, thatched St Mary's Church is a Grade I listed building. It has early 14th century wall paintings, on the south wall, the early years of Christ and on the north wall, the martyrdom of St Edmund. There is a circular window in the west wall of the nave that is said to be late Anglo-Saxon as well as the famous retable. Architect Basil Spence died in 1976 at his home at Yaxley, Suffolk and was buried at Thornham Parva.


Vinaixa (pronounced [biˈnaʃə]) is a municipality in Les Garrigues, Catalonia, Spain.

The main attraction is the church of St. John the Baptist, in Romanesque-Cistercian style. It houses several Romanesque paintings and Gothic retable.

Westminster Retable

The Westminster Retable, the oldest known panel painting altarpiece in England, is estimated to have been painted in the 1270s in the circle of Plantagenet court painters, for Westminster Abbey, very probably for the high altar. It is thought to have been donated by Henry III of England as part of his Gothic redesign of the Abbey. The painting survived only because it was incorporated into furniture between the 16th and 19th centuries, and much of it has been damaged beyond restoration. According to one specialist, the "Westminster Retable, for all its wounded condition, is the finest panel painting of its time in Western Europe."In 1998 the Hamilton Kerr Institute in Cambridge, with support from the Getty Foundation and the Heritage Lottery Fund, began a six-year project to clean and conserve what remained of the work. Upon completion, it was displayed at the National Gallery, London for four months in 2005 before being returned to Westminster Abbey, where it was on display in the museum.

Winged altarpiece

A winged altarpiece (also folding altar) or winged retable is a special form of altarpiece (reredos, occasionally retable), common in Central Europe, in which the fixed shrine or corpus can be enclosed by two (triptych), four (pentaptych) or more (polyptych) movable wings. The technical terms are derived from Ancient Greek: τρίς: trís or "triple"; πέντε: pénte or "five"; πολύς: polýs or "many"; and πτυχή: ptychē or "fold, layer". Because the winged altar can display different scenes on weekdays, Sundays or holidays, based on the motifs and type of decoration (painted panels or reliefs), it is also called a liturgical altar. An altarpiece is often mounted on the altar shrine, but more usually it has a carving (carved altar). Above the retable may be found the crowning or superstructure, pinnacles and flowers of the cross. Relics can be housed below it, in a reliquary in the predella lying on the altar stone.

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