Thursday, June 16, 2011

Art Project inspired by Rublev's "Holy Trinity"

Andrei Rublev's icon, "The Holy Trinity"
While living in Russia in the early 90's, I fell in love with Andrei Rublev's famous icon, "The Holy Trinity".  This icon dating from around 1410 depicts the three visitors that appeared to Abraham near Mamre in Genesis 18.  While there is debate among theologians as to whether the three visitors were actually the Trinity, the story provides the basis for a beautiful symbolic portrait of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each of the three members of the Trinity are seated in a circle representing their unity and perfect love and respect for one other. And each one is either holding something or has a something symbolic behind him that points to his divine character. Even the choice of  colors for their clothing stands for their divine attributes.

During the Pentecost season last year, we did a lesson on the Trinity.  Explaining the Trinity to anyone, let alone a child, is an almost impossible task! (It is, of course, a mystery of faith that both baffles and irresistably intrigues us.)  We used classic illustrations such as water in its three forms and an egg (shell, yolk, white) to give the children a visual idea of how something can be the same, but take different forms.  We then showed the children Rublev's icon using this wonderful page from Wellspring.  Wellspring offers a virtual tour of the icon by allowing one to click on each member of the Trinity for an explanation of the colors, attire and imagery used for each figure. As a general rule, I never use computers or media in children's worship, but this was too good to pass up. : )

As an opportunity to creatively respond to what they had heard about the Trinity, I created this watercolor project for the children:

Step 1:  Use a pattern to trace the basic outline of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit with their halos. You may download my pattern here. Please note that my pattern gives the basic outline of the three figures with their halos, but not angelic wings so that the children can draw these themselves if they wish. 

Step 2:  Have the children pencil in any facial features that they want to add to the three figures of the Trinity as well as the angelic wings. They can also draw bread and wine on the table in the middle of the three figures. I left my faces blank, but the children last year chose to draw facial pictures and they were marvelous!

Step 3: Have the children brainstorm different images that remind them of each member of the Trinity and pencil these in behind each figure just as Rublev did in the original icon.  For my sample, I chose the sun to represent the Father, a tree for the Son, and a waterfall for the Holy Spirit.  But the children could choose anything they want. 

Step 4:  Paint each area with watercolor.  Adding salt to the wet watercolor in the halos produces a nice effect.  

A close-up of the halos after salt was sprinkled on the wet paint.

Step 5:  This is optional, but tracing the completed figures with black marker or black pastel can give the painting a more completed look.  

The children who participated in this project were ages 3-5. While this may seem like a project for older children (and well it could be), the goal with younger children is not technical excellence. Rather the goal is to give the children an opportunity to think about and explore what each member of the Trinity is like. 

I so wish that I had picture of my children's paintings from last year to show you!  They were made before I started blogging and the kids' finished paintings were so good that their grandmother took them to the States with her.: )


  1. What a breathtaking project.

  2. Gorgeous! I love this project and I love hearing how you put it together so that the children could make something meaningful and make something on their own! Thanks so much!

  3. Thank you, Arianne & Leslie! This was one of the most fun art projects that I have ever done.

  4. What a fantastic way to teach young children about the Trinity!

  5. My daughter is adopted from Russia, so I've developed an interest in ikons, too. Last year, when I taught catechism class for 9-12 year olds, we did a couple of sessions on ikons and the symbolism in their colors, etc. I love this project and will keep it on file for a future session on ikons. Thank you for sharing!

    I'm new to your blog; visiting via Lacy's Catholic Icing First Friday linkup. Will bookmark and follow you -- you have some great ideas! I am also a catechist for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program.

    Cheryl Basile

  6. Hi Cheryl, It's great to meet you! I am always happy to get to know others who do Catechesis or Godly Play. We can learn so much from each other. Thanks for following my blog, and I just signed up to follow yours as well.

  7. I love this! So glad to have found your blog through the Catholic Icing link-up.

  8. Thanks, Lori! I just looked at your blog about rediscovering your Catholic faith. I will definitely look forward to reading more!

  9. Great project~ I teach 1st grade religious education and I'm always on the look out for projects.

    I found you in a round-about way through a Meme "Pay It Forward" Would love for you to stop by and pay us a visit, perhaps get involved with the Meme...


  10. Hi Holly, Thanks so much! If you decide to this with your class, I'd love to see what your students do with it. Thanks for the invitation to do the Meme. I will definitely check it out!

  11. Great idea! We used this at our congregational Lent Event yesterday. It worked really well with our range of ages - preschoolers to grandmothers. I've posted some examples of our work on my blog here:
    Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. Oh wow, thank you, Katie, for sharing the link with me! I love seeing what people do with this idea.