Trinity, Holy, Iconography of
TRINITY, HOLY, ICONOGRAPHY OF
Representation and symbolization of the Holy Trinity, based on the interpretation of Scripture and belief in the Trinity, is manifest in architecture and architectural decoration, painting, and manuscript illumination.
In Architecture. In early Christian architecture the Trinity was symbolized by the ecclesia triplex (three churches either within one enclosure or under a single roof). A Trinitarian symbolism still dominated the planning of certain 10th-and 11th-century churches: the triple church built at Saint-Bénigne (Dijon) by Abbot William of Volpiano; the three matutinal altars at Cluny II; and the three among the quinque altaria principalia dedicated in 1095 by Pope Urban II at Cluny III. The Delta plan, with a more exceptional Trinitarian connotation, was used to pattern the foundation of churches such as the Romanesque one of Planès in French Catalogne, and the baroque pilgrimage church, Die Kappel, near Waldsassen, begun by George Dientzenhofer in 1865.
The Etimasia. At the apex of the mosaics covering the triumphal arch of Saint Mary Major (Rome, 432–440), the Trinity is symbolized by the giant version of the etimasia (ἑτοιμασία): the empty throne (the same
throne that presided over the Council of Ephesus, 430–31), the book on a cushion and a purple veil, the dove and the crux gemmata, wreathed with the aurun coronarium. The book is sealed with the seven seals that are interpreted as Incarnation, Nativity, Passion, Harrowing of Hell, Resurrection, Ascension, and the Last Judgment.
The Three Men. The three men, seen by Abraham in the vale of Mamre, were interpreted by Saint Ambrose (De Abraham, Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne, 14:435) and Saint Augustine (Contra Maximinum Arianum Episcopum, Patrolgia Latina 42:809) as manifestations of the Godhead, one and triune. On a mosaic in the nave of Saint Mary Major the central figure of the three men adored by Abraham is circumscribed within an etheric mandorla, as if to translate in terms of light the formula of Saint Augustine: "et ipse Abraham tres vidit, unum adoravit." That iconography, well represented in Byzantine mosaics (S. Vitale, Ravenna, mid-6th century; Monreale, c. 1175) was transmitted through illuminated Greek manuscripts to icon painting. It was given the place of honor on the iconostasis (see icon). The most famous "three angels" icon, symbolizing both the Trinity and the Eucharist, is the languid and graceful painting of Andreĭ rublËv, c. 1410, in the Historical Museum, Moscow. The Byzantine iconography of the Trinity influenced Romanesque and early Gothic art mainly through German illuminations copying Byzantine models. When it is found in the French Psalter of Queen Ingeburge, c. 1210 (Musée Condé, Chantilly, folio 10v), it is because the unknown artist who painted the Psalter was indebted to the antiquating and neo-Greek style propagated in northeastern France by the enameled works of the goldsmith Nicholas of Verdun.
Three Identical Figures. The representation of the Trinity as the figure, three times repeated, of the same divine person wearing the cruciform nimbus appeared on 10th-century English pen drawings (Pontifical from Sherborne, 992.5, in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, Pat. 943, folio 5, 5v, 6). Such triple images, which may have been motivated by Carolingian and remote Coptic prototypes, were soon to be connected with the Trinity creating the world and, more specifically, shaping man into a microcosm made in the semblance of God (illumination in herrad of landsberg's Hortus Deliciarum, 1170–80).
In later medieval art the Synthronos, on which the three persons of the Trinity are seated, was to be given also a particular emphasis in connection with the last episode of the so-called Drama of the Virtues (cf. Psalm 84) in which the Virtues argued about the Incarnation. In the mystery plays (cf. Le Pélerinage de Jésus-Christ of Guillaume de Deguileville), Jesus, back from His pilgrimage on earth, is enthroned by God the Father on His right, among the chanting hosts of the entire paradise. Jean Fouquet painted that scene (c. 1450) in the Book of Hours of Étienne Chevalier (Musée Condé). The three Persons, all in white and alike, are seated on a bench with three separate canopies (as the sedilia from the Holy Chapel of Bourges, founded in 1391 by Jean, Duke of Berry). The Virgin, in Fouquet's illumination, occupies another throne, on the proper right of the triune Godhead. But the Virgin Theotokos, holding Jesus Incarnate and crowned by the dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit (as she is crowned by the dove in the Belle Verrière stained glass of Chartres Cathedral), had already been incorporated within the mandorla, with God the Father and God the Son, in an Anglo-Saxon drawing, dating between 1023 and 1035. The drawing that belongs to a manuscript from New Minster, Winchester, is the oldest illustration of the feast of the Trinity (British Museum, Cotton Manuscript. Titus D. 27, folio 75v).
The Ancient of Days. In Greek illuminated manuscripts of the 11th century (a lectionary of Mt. Athos, Dionysius 740 folio 3v; homilies of John Climacus, Vatican Library, MS. gr. 394 folio 7), the Theotokos of the Sedes Sapientiae is replaced by the Ancient of Days (Dn 7.9, 13, 22): God the Father, holding in His lap Christ-Emmanuel, the Logos, everlastingly engendered, "the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father…" (Jn 1.18). The dove is in the lap of Christ. It flutters around in the mandorla in a miniature of a Weingarten manuscript, c. 1200 (Landesbibliotek, Fulda, Manuscript A 32 folio 170). Early imitations of the Trinitarian Byzantine type are met in the Bible of Saint-Bénigne, Dijon, and in an 11th-century Anglo-Saxon manuscript (British Musuem, Harley 603). The Nikopoia, variant of the Sedes Sapientiae, in which the Virgin holds Christ Emmanuel in an elongated shield or a round clipeus, was also transformed into a corresponding image of the Ancient of Days (cf. the Byzantinized image in an early 13th-century Bohemian psalter, the Codex Ostroviensis, Prague, Metropolitan Chapter, Manuscript A 57, 1 folio 83). In the Liber Scivias of the visionary Hildegard of Bingen, c. 1180, the Ancient of Days holds as an imago clipeata the Lamb bearing the Cross [cf. ed. and tr. of Scivias by Maura Bockeler (Salzburg 1954) 34]. In the Bohemian Liber Viaticus of John of Streda, Chancellor of Emperor Charles IV (c. 1360), Christ Logos is replaced in the medallion by the Man of Sorrows (National Museum, Prague, codex 13 A 12 folio 165). The admission of elements pertaining to the Passion of Christ in the symbol of the Trinity can be explained by a 12th-century creation of the utmost importance for the development of the representation of the Trinity in medieval art: the so-called throne of grace.
Throne of Grace and Passion Elements. The Throne of Grace is the Lutheran translation of what the King James version of the Old Testament rendered as the mercy seat. The mercy seat of gold was set in the ark, and in the ceremonies of atonement it was sprinkled with the blood of a bullock (Ex 25.21; Lv 16.14). Saint Paul referred to it as a symbol of propitiation through faith in the blood of Christ for the remission of sins (Rom 4.25; cf. Heb 4.16; 9.5). That symbol was expressed by 12th-century artists in the decoration of portable altars and in illuminations introducing the Canon of the Mass.
Christ crucified may be represented under the theophany of God the Father wearing the cruciform halo with the two Persons interconnected by the dove as shown on the Mauritius portable altar by Eilbertus of Cologne in Siegburg (c. 1150); or God the Father supports the cross in the mandorla, and His lips are put in communication with those of the crucified Son by the dove. This materializes the procession of the Third Person per spirationem from the Father and the Son (Missal in Cambrai, Bibliothèque Municipale, 234 folio 2). Abbot Suger adopted a similar iconography for the program of the Last Judgment portal of the abbey church of Saint-Denis (1137–40): the dove, carved at the apex of the outer archivolt, hovers above God, holding the Lamb bearing the cross, which is represented underneath on the keystone of the third archivolt (compare the tympanum relief of S. Domingo, Soria, c. 1150). On the tympanum, Christ, enthroned and crucified, proffers his stigmatized hands. An extraordinary painting, the Torún altar (1390) from the Franciscan church of Torún, Poland, kept in the National Museum, Warsaw, sums up the interpenetration of the divine Persons against the background of the Redemption. God the Father, surmounted by the dove, holds in His lap the child Christ and is seated on the apocalyptic rainbow, in mandorla and with the apparatus of a Majestas Trinitatis. The mandorla enframes the Tree of Life, on which Christ is crucified, but only His nailed hands and feet are seen. His head is concealed by the haloed head of the Father, and His body is hidden behind a double veil made of a patterned brocade. This veil represents, typologically, the veil in the Temple of Jerusalem, which, on the day of reconciliation, the High Priest sprinkled with blood. Mystically it represents the body of Christ as Priest opening on Calvary the way to the New Jerusalem [Hebrews 10.19, 20; Saint Anselm of Canterbury, In Omnes Pauli Epistolas enarrationes (Cologne 1545) 504].
Christ crucified held by His Father, or detached from the cross and supported by His Father, or lying as a corpse on the lap of His seated Father, are the main schemes representing the Trinity from the late Gothic period to the time of the Counter Reformation. The works of art after 1400 simplified the highly concentrated symbolism that obtained during the three previous centuries. The benefit of a clearer delineation and more dramatic grouping was had at the cost of the deepest theological implications.
Bibliography: a. n. didron, Iconographie chretienne. Histoire de Dieu (Paris 1844). a. hackel, Die Trinität in der Kunst (Berlin 1931). a. heimann, "L'Iconographie de la Trinité et son développement en Occident," L'Art Chrétien 1 (1934); "Trinitas Creator Mundi," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 2 (1938) 42–52. w. braunfels, Die Heilige Dreifaltigkeit (Düsseldorf 1954). t. dobmzeniecki, "The Torún Quinity in the National Museum in Warsaw," Art Bulletin 46 (1964) 380–88.