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holy trinity (1411-25), rublev

Artist: Andrei Rublev

Technique: Tempera on wood

Dimensions: 142cm x 114cm

Year: 1411 – 1425

Location of creation: Moscow

Current Location: Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Movements: Russian Medieval Painting

Theme: Religious / Russian Icon (Orthodox Christian


Subject: A depiction of the three angels who visited

Abraham, at the Oak of Mamre (Genesis 18:1–8)

general description

Painted on a vertically aligned wooden board, three angels sit at a table with a cub in between them.

The work narrates an episode of the Bible (Genesis 18: 2-15), referring to the visit of three angels, who announce to Abraham and his wife Sarah that they would soon bear a child. The Trinity icon, a common and significant theme, is also known as The Hospitality of Abraham and the icon of The Old Testament Trinity. The Holy Trinity mysteriously appears in the form of three travelers to Abraham and Sarah, under the Oak of Mamre. The three angels sit in conversation at Abraham’s table, blessing the chalice which contains a sacrificed calf ready to be eaten;

It’s considered as one of the greatest Russian religious paintings;

The icon was commissioned in the honour of Saint Sergius of Radonezh; painted for the Monastery of the Trinity and St. Sergius, where it has remained until recently.

intrinsic content

Rublev subverts the usual narrative of the scene by removing Abraham and Sarah altogether from the picture; instead, he focuses only on the mystery of the Holy Trinity, and its presence as angels; evoking the mystery of faith itself.

The Three Angels: The three angels are viewed as an icon of the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (classically represented as an old bearded man, Jesus Christ and a dove) represent the embodiment of spiritual peace, harmony, unity, modesty and reciprocal love. The angel on the left portrays the Father; in the middle, the Son, and on the right the Holy Spirit, is perhaps the most common perspective, reading from the left to the right.

The cup on the table: the cup symbolizes the mystery of the Eucharist. 

The Calf: signifies the death of Jesus on the cross, and being served as food (the ‘body’) correlates to the Eucharist. 


In the background is a building (presumably Abraham’s house which represents a place of eternal salvation), a tree (the Oak of Mamre which represents the Tree of Life), and a mountain (which represents Mount Moriah).

There is an absence of movement and action in the scene. All three characters have identical features, clothing and expression; they seem to gaze into forever, peacefully;

The iconography reveals an ideal expression of God without God being depicted – we are in His presence, but we do not see Him; we do not understand Him. God is omnipresent, in every moment.

A very simple composition; unifying symmetry; the figures are organized so that the lines of their bodies form a complete circle;

Delicate application of colour, use of orange and gold tones creating warmth and luminosity that enhances its spiritual resonance; their clothes, from right to left, vary from the green and blue of the earth and sky, to the redeeming colours of blue, red and gold;

The angels are spiritually peaceful, and their gazes rest/speak of a intangible world; unworldly, they visit earth from another dimension; it is an ethereal presence;

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painting details