The Trinity of Andrei Rublev

Church of St. Sergius, Moscow, 15th century

Written by Paula Howard, OSB

Mount St. Scholastica, October 2001

THE TRINITY by Andrei Rublev represents the zenith of Russian iconography in the early 15th century. The icon is based on the Biblical story of Abraham and Sarah when the were visited by three angels, interpreted to represent the Three Persons of the Trinity. The link to the New Testament is shown by the chalice centered on the table and put in focus by the hands of the angels.

The three angels show aparadoxical equality and dissimilarity, so much so that commentators disagree on which represents the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Though the position of the bodies, the inclination of the heads, the position of the hands, the color of the clothing, the expressions on the faces all differ, there is a striking resemblance in the facial features, the abundant hair, the identical staffs. Their attitudes have been described as serene and anxious, gentle and sorrowful, detached and intimate, meditative and interacting.

Rublev chose light and movement to depict the indivisible essence of the Trinity without beginning or end. The light background colors contrast with the brilliant intensity of the robes of the three figures. The gold of the wings and the brilliant blue between the angels tie them together as one being. The movement begins with the angel on the right. With the inclination of the head it moves to the center angel, and then on to the third where it is carried down through the arm to the feet and back around to complete an endless circle. The bodies of the outside angels outline a large chalice which contains the table on which rests the sacrificial meal.

The stylized mountain, tree and temple in the background represent creation or earthly existence, the tree of the cross or the tree of life, and the church of the new covenant, according to different interpretations of the identity of the angels. The inverse perspective in the footrests places the vanishing point in the sacred space in front of the icon inviting the viewer to enter into the mystery of contemplation.

Some of this information is from the book Praying with Icons by Jim Forest (Orbis Books, 2008).