|Andrei Rublev, Icon of the Trinity|
Russian, 15th Century
Moscow, Tretyakov Gallery
There it is, approximately 20-25 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, a full statement of the faith of the church. Indeed, the entire letter is filled with Trinitarian references. Where could this belief in a single Godhead of three distinct persons have come from? It is foreign to both Judaism and Islam. It can only be from the revelation given to the Apostles at Pentecost as they reflected on their lived experience of Jesus and His teaching.
Throughout subsequent Christian life the church has reflected on this revelation in theology, literature and art. In literature we have Dante’s beautiful ending to The Divine Comedy where he describes three circles of light of different colors, sharing only one dimension. And yet, within that image there also appears a human form, for He took on our form as we were made in His image.
The visual arts also have reflected on the mystery in different ways and have presented us with three main, differing traditions. One very old tradition, mainly active in the Eastern Churches, and deriving from the description of the three mysterious visitors whom Abraham receives and entertains (Genesis 18), represents the Trinity as three more of less identical men. A famous example is the picture by the 15th-century Russian iconographer, Andrei Rublev. This Icon of the Trinity uses subtle differences of color and position to distinguish between the Divine Persons.
|Andrea Castagno, The Apparition of the Trinity|
to Saint Jerome and Two Female Saints
Italian, c. 1453
Florence, Church of the Santissima Annunziate
The Castagno image is an interesting example of an artist trying to assimilate the recently invented science or perspective. This is seen in the extreme foreshortening of the image of the Trinity, which ends in fire to cover the lower part of Christ’s body in order to cover the too drastically foreshortened legs.
The other Western image, which eventually replaced the Throne of Grace, is a more straightforward, even prosaic image of the Three Persons. God the Father is shown as an older, bearded man, Jesus is shown as a young man bearing the wounds of His Passion, and the Holy Spirit appears as a dove.
|Peter Paul Rubens, The Gonzaga Family Adoring the Trinity|
Mantua, Ducal Palace