Foreign usage of the term, as in French, is different, and where the word is kept with this foreign application, the distinction should be observed. 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. The foreign retable is, therefore, what should in English be called a reredos, though that is not in modern usage a movable feature.
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.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.