Art Notes: The Hospitality of Abraham by Andrei Rublev

Authored by Dr. Lionel Gracey in Issue #31.4 of The Sower

Between the birth of Abraham and the birth of Jesus, about eighteen centuries, Israel’s understanding of God underwent considerable development. In only one passage of the Old Testament, however, is there any reference to the idea of God as Trinity. This occurs in one of the most mysterious passages in the Old Testament, which is Abraham’s encounter with the Lord by the oaks of Mamre (Gen 18:1-15). To illustrate this scene, we have chosen what is possibly the best known of all Russian icons. This is The Hospitality of Abraham, by Andrei Rublev (c1360-1430), painted about the year 1411. It is often known simply as Rublev’s Icon of the Holy Trinity.

Icons are not pictures in any ordinary sense of the word. They are ‘written’ in prayer, written in a sense ‘from God’ as windows through which we allow God to look upon us and speak to us. Because of this icons are for prayer, devotion and contemplation rather than for analysis or for teaching. If teaching and analysis do take place, as here in the ‘Teaching through Art’ series, it is only for the sake of insight into divine mystery and thus to deeper devotion.

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