Netherlandish School, circa 1500
- Christ with Three Faces: The Trinity
- oil on panel, unframed
- 7 by 4 1/2 in.; 17.8 by 11.4 cm.
G.R. Elder, An Encyclopedia of Archetypal Symbolism, vol. 2: The Body, Boston and London 1996, p. 93, reproduced on cover and p. 92.
The visual depiction of the Trinity, with its concept of three persons in one godhead, has always been a challenge for artists. The solution here showing Christ with three faces is very startling for us, but it was a device used in illuminated manuscripts, prints, paintings and sculpture from the twelfth century until 1628, when it was finally outlawed as heretical by Pope Urban VIII. Representations varied so that sometimes artists showed Christ's whole body, with three heads rising hydra-like on elongated necks, while other times they showed just the heads, as in St. Augustine Perceives the Trinity from Fra Filippo Lippi's Barbadoro Altarpiece in the Uffizi, Florence or Andrea del Sarto's Trinity with Four Saints, in the Museo del Cenacolo, Florence. The Netherlandish artist who painted the present work used the traditional pose of the Salvator Mundi, presenting the figure in half length, the left hand holding the orb of the earth and the right raised in blessing, but replaced Christ's head with the three faces of the Trinity.