An Icon to Remember

An Icon to Remember

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An Icon to Remember

During the Late Byzantium Period a new burst of creative energy grasped the Russian artists. More artists emerged as Russians became increasingly interested in art. Earlier in the Byzantium Period “art that had to do with religious worship, like statues and any religious imagery throughout the empire, was destroyed under Leo III in iconoclasm” (Kleiner and Mamiya 326). This era lasted nearly one hundred years. During this period icon painting became very popular. “These paintings are small portable paintings depicting Christ, the Virgin, or Saints” (Kleiner and Mamiya 342). One of the most famous and influential icon artists to come about during this time was Audrei Rublev. In ca.1410 he designed his masterpiece, the Old Testament Trinity (Figure 1), one of the most beautiful and popular icon paintings in Russia. Rublev’s Old Testament Trinity was a very spiritual and an important icon painting during the fifteenth century.

Audrei Rublev was born in ca.1360 and was known as a Russian painter and monk (“Rublev” 304). He was so spectacular that his work had a profound influence on the development of Russian art overall. His paintings usually attributed to a more linear quality (“Rublev” 304-305). “Rublev worked beside Theophanes the Greek and Prokhor from Gorodets, whom may have been his teachers, in painting the Cathedral of the Annunciation and also with the icon painter Daniil Chorny” (Hamilton 93). Although there is very little background known of his life, his first appearance was in 1405(Hamilton 93). Audrei Rublev passed most of the remainder of his life in the Andronikov Monastery, where he is now buried (“Rublev” 304). He lived to be seventy and died in ca.1430. Audrei Rublev was one of the greatest icon painters for Russia during the Middle Ages.

“The Old Testament Trinity was dedicated to Saint Sergius Radonezhsky c.1411” (“Rublev” 305). It was found in 1918 in a storeroom near the Cathedral of the Dormition. Although having severe and irreparable damage enough remains. “The painting depicts three angels that are in silent communication with each other, seated around an altar table with a chalice that indicates the subject of their contemplation is self-sacrifice” (Art Treasures in Russia 61). The central figure, God the Father, is further back then his companions, God the Son on the left and the Holy Spirit on the right.

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“The three figures are at an angle rather than frontally, which reduces the width of their shoulders and renders their outline more fluidly”(Art Treasures in Russia 62). It has a superior quality with its composition dominated by smoothly curving lines, matched by a masterly use of color.

“The uses of warm golden-yellow tones are contrasted with cold dark and light blue tones” (“Rublev” 304-305). There are a variety of other colors like green, mauve, and brown that are also used in his color scheme. These colors add a more inviting and soothing atmosphere to the painting. “The purpose of these paintings was to enable the worshiper to read pictorially” (Kleiner and Mamiya 296). “Clear pictorial legibility in wavering candlelight and through clouds of incense required strong pattern, firm lines, and intense color” (Kleiner and Mamiya 296). Each of the angels has a halo and sweeping orange wings. “The intense color in the central figure is brought forward into the midst by the daring use of lapis lazuli in his upper garment” (Art Treasures in Russia 62). The same color is reflected in the robes of the other two angels one having a deep red robe and the other robe being blue green with an orange cloak. “The use of vertical and sharp angles is used to counteract curves and to accentuate the symbolism” (Art Treasures in Russia 62). Knowing that, the eye sees visual drama throughout. This masterpiece is painted in tempera on wood. Tempera is pigment dissolved in egg, which was the chief medium of European painting. Its measurements are fifty-five by forty-five inches, which converts into four feet seven inches by three feet nine inches (Art Treasures in Russia 62).

“The three figures of the Old Testament Trinity represent the angels who appeared to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis XVIII” (Johnson). They were interpreted in Christian thought as a prefiguration of the Holy Trinity after Christ’s incarnation (Kleiner and Mamiya 356). The unobtrusive circle that contains them links the angels to each other. “As it introduces the symbol of eternity into the composition” (Art Treasures in Russia 62). “He may have used the circular forms because they clearly attracted him and the calm they conveyed” (Art Treasures in Russia 62). “The image suggests that the mystery of God is not a closed divine society but a communion in relationship” (Johnson). The icon points to the very meaning that “God is love” (Johnson). The symbolism is a loving relationship in the community and in the world as the ultimate good. In this religious painting the center lies the Father and of him come the Son and Holy Spirit, which in all they are equal. “Among the three there is no domination and subordination, no before and after, but profound equal persons in mutual relations” (Johnson). The Old Testament Trinity is a spiritual relational character of the “God who is love and is a living symbol of divine communion” (Johnson).

Throughout the fifteenth century people were spiritually drawn to the Christian way of life and to Audrei Rublev’s icon paintings. Audrei Rublev’s Old Testament Trinity was his best work of art. The Old Testament Trinity represents God and his love for the world. Rublev designed this in ca.1410, roughly about five hundred ninety years ago and now resides at Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.


Art Treasures in Russia. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1970.

Hamilton, George H. The Art and Architecture of Russia. Baltimore: Penguin Books. 1975.

Johnson, Elizabeth A. “To Let the Symbol Sing Again.” Theology Today. October 1997: n. pag. Online. Ovid 6 November 2000.

Kleiner, Fred S., and Christin J. Mamiya. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages. Fort Worth: Harcourt College, 2001.

“Rublev, Audrei.” Dictionary of Art. 1996 ed.
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