The Trinity (also called The Hospitality of Abraham) is an icon created by Russian painter Andrei Rublev in the 15th century. The Trinity depicts the three angels who visited Abraham at the Oak of Mamre (Genesis 18:1–8). The painting is full of symbolism: the Holy Trinity is the embodiment of spiritual unity, peace, harmony, mutual love and humility.
The icon was commissioned to honour Saint Sergius of Radonezh of the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius, near Moscow, now in the town of Sergiyev Posad. The Trinity is currently held in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.
The Trinity was painted on a vertically aligned board. It depicts three angels sitting at a table. On the table, there is a cup containing the head of a calf. In the background, Rublev painted a house (Abraham’s house), a tree (the Oak of Mamre), and a mountain (Mount Moriah). The figures of angels are arranged so that the lines of their bodies form a full circle. The middle angel and the one on the left bless the cup with a hand gesture. There is no action or movement in the painting. The figures gaze into eternity in the state of motionless contemplation. There are sealed traces of nails from the icon’s metal protective cover on the margins, halos and around the cup.
The angels were depicted as talking, not eating. The gestures of angels, smooth and restrained, demonstrate the sublime nature of their conversation. The silent communion of the three angels is the centre of the composition.
The form that most clearly represents the idea of the consubstantiality of the Trinity’s three hypostases is a circle. It is the foundation of the composition. At the same time, the angels are not inserted into the circle, but create it instead, thus our eyes can’t stop at any of the three figures and rather dwell inside this limited space.
The impactful center of the composition is the cup with the calf’s head. It hints at the crucifixion sacrifice and serves as the reminder of the Eucharist. The left and the right angels’ figures make a silhouette that resembles a cup. Around the cup, which is placed on the table, the silent dialogue of gestures takes place.
The left angel symbolizes God the Father. He blesses the cup, yet his hand is painted in a distance, as if he passes the cup to the central angel.
The central angel represents Jesus Christ, who in turn blesses the cup as well and accepts it with a bow as if saying, ”My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will”. (Mt 26:39)
The nature of each of the three hypostases is revealed through their symbolic attributes, i.e. the house, the tree, and the mountain. The starting point of the divine administration is the creative Will of God, therefore Rublev places the Abraham’s house above the corresponding angel’s head.
The Oak of Mamre can be interpreted as the tree of life, and it serves as a reminder of the Jesus’s death on the cross and his subsequent resurrection, which opened the way to eternal life. The Oak is located in the centre, above the angel who symbolizes Jesus.
Finally, the mountain is a symbol of the spiritual ascent, which mankind accomplishes with the help of the Holy Spirit.
The unity of the Trinity’s three hypostases expresses unity and love between all things: “That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21)
The wings of two angels, the Father and the Son, interlap. The blue colour of the Son’s robe symbolizes divinity, the brown colour represents earth, his humanity, and the gold speaks of kingship of God.
The wings of the Holy Spirit do not touch the Son’s wings, they are imperceptibly divided by the Son’s spear. The blue colour of the Holy Spirit’s robe symbolizes divinity, the green colour represents new life. The poses and the inclinations of the Holy Spirit and the Son’s heads demonstrate their submission to the Father, yet their placement on the thrones at the same level symbolizes equality.