Holy Trinity Icon by andrei Rublev
Every icon has a theological background. Using images, forms and colors, the icon shows what Holy Scripture is teaching us by the Word. The icon offers us truth as a vision, and thereby is a direct approach to our non-reasoning mind and heart, allowing us thereby to reach a deeper understanding of the Biblical message. From the early development of icons to the present, the theological meaning of the icon is always connected to a concrete representation.
Considering the icon of the Holy Trinity painted by Russian iconographer Andrei Rublev in the fifteenth century, we have a very clear representation of the biblical passage Genesis 18:1-8. The Trinity represents the three angels who visited Abraham at the Oak of Mamre. Rublev’s intention for this icon was for it to embody spiritual unity, peace, harmony, mutual love and humility.
The composition of the icon uses sacred geometry to create a perfect circle that encloses the figures of the three angels. The left angel represents God the Father who is blessing the cup. The central angel represents Jesus Christ- his blue robe represents his divinity. He accepts the cup, bowing, and it is generally believed that this cup symbolizes the Eucharist and the sacrifice of Jesus.
The oak of Mamre symbolizes not only the tree of life, but also the death of Jesus on the cross. The mountain is a symbol of spiritual ascent that man accomplishes with the help of the Holy Spirit. The inclination of the angels’ heads demonstrate submission to the Father on the left.
Typical of Rublev’s icons, the faces of the angels are shown illuminated by an inner light, and not as a reflection of an exterior light source. His technique foregoes the white lines often used in painting faces in icons, using instead a method of paint application called “plav”. This method crates a radiance and a glowing countenance that achieves nuances of form and expression which also suggest unity and harmony.
In the icon of the Trinity, Rublev preferred transparent colors in blue-green tones that he combined with the technique of scumbling to achieve a luminous presence that also speaks to the heavenly nature of the three angels. The term “dymon pisano”, meaning transparent like a cloud”, is sometimes used to describe this technique.
Rublev’s icons appear to be more natural than those of the Palaeologue period. Their transparency reflects harmony of matter and mind. The essential nature of the icon is that it is the expression of Christian revelation. For Rublev, the drawing-design dominated the process of icon writing. His intention was to create harmony and unity through perfect contours and lines.
In the Trinity icon, the drawing of the central angel’s garment is very geometric. The angels on the sides, in contrast, are drawn with a gentle, calm movement. Similarly, the blue garment of the central angel is opaque and built up with layers, but the two side angels’ garments are transparent with touches of white.
In the Trinity icon, the complex theology of the Holy Trinity is represented by the unity of the three angels. The spiritual nature of God’s Divine Essence as the triune God is depicted as simply three angels. In this icon, we are invited not to look at three separate angels, but instead, to the Holy Trinity, the Triune God.
All-Holy Trinity, have mercy on us.
Lord, cleanse us from our sins.
Master, pardon our iniquities.
Holy God, visit and heal us
For Thy Name’s sake.
My next Zoom, online icon writing class will be April 18-21 and we will be painting the Holy Trinity Icon using egg tempera and gold leaf gilding. For more information click here.
May God continue to bless your interest in creating and praying with Holy Icons.
Sources for this article: Primarily excerpted from “The Icon, Image of the Invisible” by Egon Sendler