Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Rublev's Trinity - Part 4 'Father'

Examining the angel on the left we see several symbolic references to God the Father. Rublev was the first Iconographer who wanted to depict the three persons of the trinity as distinct. Previous Icons of the Three Visitors to Abraham generally focused on the central angel as Christ (usually with IC XC inscribed in his nimbus), with the other two angels indistinguishable. Yet still these Icons frequently had the title Holy Trinity. Rublev went further and created three clearly distinct persons in communion with each other.

Looking at the angel on the left, he appears wearing a shimmering purple χλαμΰς chlamys (a woollen cloak worn by Greeks). This rich purple is enhanced with gold to give an ethereal impression. The Father dwells in ‘unapproachable light’ (1 Tim 6.16). Under his cloak there appears a blue χιτών chiton (a Greek garment, usually belted or tied). Rublev used the blue chiton to represent the form of God, each angel wears the blue undergarment with a different coloured cloak. In the Father’s case, the blue is almost entirely covered over by the divine ‘light’ of his cloak. Hence, the Father remains almost entirely ‘invisible’ to us (Jn. 1.18).

The Father figure holds in his left hand a messengers staff, as do the other two angels. His right hand forms a blessing directed towards the chalice in the centre of the picture and beyond that to the angel on the right. His gaze is directed to this angel, who wears a green cloak over his blue chiton. As we shall see later, this angel on the right represents the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and is sent by the Son (Jn. 15.26).

Directly behind the angel on the left is a house. This typically represented the tent of Abraham; here Rublev connects it with the person of the Father. It is the Father’s house, wherein are many rooms, an abode for the faithful (Jn. 14.2). The door and window are open, an invitation to us to dwell in the rooms that are prepared for God’s children.

We notice that the central angel (The Eternal Word) and the angel on the right (The Gift) incline their heads toward the Father. The strict Monarcia of the Father (so central to Eastern Orthodoxy’s Trinitarian understanding) is thereby preserved. Both Son and Spirit are from the Father, not in time but in eternity, and they are also to Him, as they lead all of creation to the Father. We see the central perspective of the Icon is in the figure on the left, not in the centre, yet another example of Eastern Orthodoxy’s unusual use of perspective.

Rublev has presented the Father, essentially hidden from sight, yet seen by us in the missions of the Son and Holy Spirit, to which we next turn our attention.

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