question and response

Rublev’s Icon – The Three Visitors or Trinity

Have you looked at Rublev’s icon as an image of the Trinity? The picture of the table and an empty seat as an invitation to us to participate in God’s community? It also illustrates a non female / male image because it’s difficult to tell the difference. Interested to hear your thoughts.

I have looked at Andrei Rublev‘s icon as an image of the Trinity. It is one of my favorite icons and I had the opportunity to see the original at The State Tretyakov Gallery while on an immersion trip through Wesley Theological Seminary.

There is rich symbolism in this icon which depicts both the three visitors to Abraham (Genesis 18) and the Trinity. There is a great deal of thought and study about the possibilities of which person of the Trinity each of those in the icon represent. You can find an in depth exploration of the icon here or many other locations online.

I had not before considered the empty seat (where the viewer is) as an invitation to be in relationship with God, but now that you have brought it up I agree. In this icon gender is not clearly evident and I believe that we cannot characterize God as being either male or female. I believe that the Son, Jesus, is male. I believe that Father is an appropriate term for God and I also believe that mother would be an appropriate description for God. God exhibits characteristics of both genders in relating to all of creation.

This question came out of a young adult small group taster last Sunday morning in which I taught about the question “What is the Trinity?”

Thanks for the picture.

3 replies on “Rublev’s Icon – The Three Visitors or Trinity”

Nice post Andrew! This has always been one of my favorite icons- I once visited an Orthodox church, and a monk there (whose monastery is on Patmos and who was baptized where John is believed to have baptized people on Patmos) explained to me how icons were used to describe and teach the Trinity and other things. This particular icon was the one he showed me, from what I can remember.

I would say that the apparent androgeny of the angels was not intended by Rublev, from what I read concerning this particular icon and in the general vein of sacred art in that time period as a whole. Orthodox iconography had fairly rigid rules regarding depictions of angels- angels are genderless, but to be depicted they have to be depicted in some form of gender. They can’t be depicted as grown men with beards, nor as female- thus beardless males youth are the required norm for Orthodox iconography, from what I have read. This beardless male youth thus serves as a way of depicting the non-gendered-ness of angels.

The difficulty in distinguishing genders in mediated partially culturally, (because in near eastern cultures men normally have large amounts of facial hair) and partially because of Rublev’s style- he like to use soft lines. and so facial features are not extremely well pronounced. To be sure, he has specific facial hair features for Christ, John The Baptist, the Apostles, etc. However, if one looks closely at some of his other icons in which angels are depicted, there is a distinct means of presenting them. They have the wings, the halo, the same facial features, the braided hair, and this is consistent from Michael to Gabriel to the angels witnessing Christ’s baptism to the Trinity icon.

One thing I stumbled across is that instead of seeing the Father on the left, the Father may be on the right. The Son is spoken of as sitting at the right hand of the Father, and the right hand figure is dressed in blue and green- blue representing sky and thus transcendence; green representing life and thus the Father is source of life. The house behind the left angel could represent the church; thus, the Spirit is the one who builds the church.

Anyway, those are some of my thoughts. Thanks for the post!

deviantmonk – Thanks for the insight into both icons in general and Rublev’s and this particular icon in particular. I appreciate the view of the father on the right. I think that this is some of the greatness of the icon is that even in the interpretation there can be a great variety.

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