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    STUDIA HISTORIA ARTIUM - Issue no. 1 / 2017  

DOI: 10.24193/subbhistart.2017.01

Published Online: 2017-12-15
Published Print: 2017-12-30
pp. 5-47


The Holy Trinity in One Body and vultus trifrons, in Several Examples of Religious Painting in Transylvania. Between East and West, discusses an icon on wood, datable to the eighteenth-century (?), a "diptych", representing the whole figure of the Holy Hierarch Nicholas (left panel), based on an epigraph, a fragmentary inscription with Cyrillic letters, and a noncanonical variant of the Holy Trinity, The Holy Trinity in One Body (right panel), a work which was once part of the art collection – a genuine religious museum – of the late Greek-Catholic priest Gavril Pop from Gherla. Unfortunately, the valuable icon, much like other representative items in the collection, was lost and the work in question was dismembered (!). From the original diptych, today only the panel featuring the Holy Trinity in One Body survives, the image having been analyzed and published in the literature at the end of the first decade of our century. Our scientific approach uncovers the presence of this non-canonical representation in mural paintings inside the Orthodox churches in Transylvania from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and beyond. Chronologically, this iconographic "heresy" began in the mural paintings of the Orthodox churches from Galda de Jos (Alba County) in 1752, Cuștelnic (Mures County), in 1756, Sebiș (Bohor County) in 1764 and Saint Paraskevi from Tălmăcel (Sibiu County), a painting made by Painters Oprea and Panteleimon in the 1780s. Other examples of the theme can be seen in the Collection of the Orthodox Archbishopric of Alba Iulia and in the wooden church of the village Vălenii de Pomezău (Bihor County), from the end of the seventeenth century. The Three-Faced Holy Trinity (vultus trifrons) was "explored" by the painters of the stone churches in Transylvania in the first half of the nineteenth century, such as the painters of the Grecu family, active in the Land of Olt/Făgăraș and in Transylvania at the end of the eighteenth century and during the first three decades of the following century [the Orthodox churches from Beclean (Brasov County), 1808, Fofeldea (Sibiu County), after 1814, Voievodenii Mici (Brasov County) between 1820-1821]. The noncanonical image was also popular in the workshops of icon painters from Transylvania. The author of the study presented and analyzed a series of works, some of them unpublished so far, from the icon-making centers in Sebeș, Lancrăm, Poiana Sibiului, Nicula, Rășinari, the Land of Olt, as well as icons preserved in the Orthodox churches from Galda de Sus, 1782, and Lunca Mureșului, 1810. About the iconographic models that stimulated the compositional-formal conception of these representations, we should mention a traditional version of oriental extraction, from south of the Carpathians, insistently advanced in the literature in during the seventh and eighth decades of the last century and the first decade of our century, focused on the model of the Holy Trinity in One Body from the sketchbook of Radu Zugravu at Curtea de Argeș (mid-eighteenth century), a version which, in our opinion, was not the only one in those times and which can/should be complemented by other iconographic suggestions that had reached the Principality of Transylvania via western channels, ever since the second half of the sixteenth century, as well as non-canonical examples that had been proliferating through woodcuts with an obvious antipapal and anti-Catholic message, such as those simulacra and idola developed in Transylvanian anti-Trinitarian milieus, present in the two volumes illustrated with such monstrosities, which were printed at Alba Iulia (1567) and Cluj (1569), having been edited by Raphael Hoffhalter (Skrezetuski), Francisc David, Giorgio Blandrata and Gaspar Heltai (Kaspar Helth of Cisnădie). The theoretical-doctrinal content and the history of vast temporal-geographical amplitude of the analyzed image is partly discussed in a text charting the sources of inspiration, starting with antiquity, the Iconography, the problem of representation, signs and symbols, representations and texts referring to the Holy Trinity in the Old Testament, Abraham and the three men, the Trinity as the Maker of the World, the Trinity in the Psalms, the representation of the Holy Trinity as a source of faith, the Holy Trinity in Glory, the Holy Trinity enthroned, the pedagogical-instructive-explanatory aspects of the Trimorphone for the large mass of less instructed believers, etc. Therefore, this is a research that is unprecedented in our specialised literature, with a theoretical-pictorial ambit that starts from Tertullian (second-third centuries AD), continuing with the writings of St. Augustine, then with the canonical texts from the time of Charles the Great, the examples offered by the Psalters and the medieval moralizing Bibles (twelfth-thirteenth centuries), the parables with the image of the Holy Trinity presented by the sculptures, the paintings and the mosaic of the aforementioned ages, followed by the hypercritical texts from the time of the Reformation, accompanied by representations of emphatic monstrosity, sometimes even with satanic valences, these aspects having led pope Benedict XIV to ban them (1745), as a warning against the danger of that non-canonical image. The presence of these representations had already become historical, however; it is not by chance that it was the Carolingian world, then the period the Romanesque and of the "international" Gothic (here, Trimorphone painted in the Church "on the Hill", Sighișoara), which allowed the flourishing of these bizarre "monstrosities", in a repertoire present in the initials of illuminated codices, in the carved legend of the capitals of pilasters inside Catholic churches, on the sides of the boxes of ivory, in the exterior ornamentation, at the level of the spires, phials, portals of the Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals/churches, in the composition of the polyptych altars (the old altar of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna) or in different other places, compositions which were obviously also assumed by the clergy, forming one of the most spectacular characteristics, surviving clandestinely, until the nineteenth century. The examples provided by the popular art of the two European "extremes", the churches in the northern area of Italy/Ticino and the works kept in the repertoire of mural and glazed painting in Transylvania, confirm it. Our conclusions from the analysis of this/these iconographic type/types (The Holy Trinity in One Body and Vultus Trifrons) lead us to a theoretical conjecture that could be traced/perceived from several directions, these being present, earlier, in Gothic Transylvanian painting, then in the xylographs developed in the Unitarian, anti-Trinitarian milieus, not just in the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries, but which could also be encountered in religious texts here (seventeenth-eighteenth centuries) or in a few graphic "suggestions" disseminated through the sketchbooks of painters from south of the Carpathians, who knew these "curiosities" that had been painted in some of the churches of Orthodox Oriental, post-Byzantine Europe.

Keywords: Transylvania, painting, Icons, Orthodox Churches, The Holy Trinity In One Body, The Three Faced Holy Trinity (Vultus Trifrons), simulacra, idola, the popular art, Ticino.
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