Throughout the history of art, there have been different ways of depicting the idea of the Trinity, of visually spelling-out the complex theological notion of three persons in one. The importance of teaching images surged with the Spanish Conquest because there was, suddenly, a large indigenous population that needed to be indoctrinated in Christianity. How could the clergy charged with the conversion explain the Trinity to someone who had never heard of the concept? Images were central in this, as they were with all facets of the conversion. Here are some of those images.
Jesus Seated at the Right Hand of the Father:
One type derives directly from the New Testament where the Gospel of Mark describes Jesus ascending into Jesus heaven and then sitting at the right hand of the Father. Scripture also describes the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove upon Jesus at his baptism (present in all four gospels), hence the depiction of a bird in representations of the Trinity.
All of these elements are a part of the following representations.
|Basilica of Guadelupe, Mexico City|
|Itizimna Church, Merida, MX|
A variant of Trinity iconography, known as the "Throne of Mercy", developed in medieval Europe. In this, God is portrayed as sitting on a throne, wearing a Papal tiara and holding the crucified figure of Jesus; the dove is also seen. Father presents his dying Son on the cross to the viewer. On the cross sits a dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit because when he was baptized Jesus "saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove" (Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:22, John 1:32). Frequently, as in the first two photos there is an orb representing the world that God created with the implication of his rulership over all.
|San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya, Oaxaca|
|Merida Cathedral, Merida, MX|
Three Identical Men:
Another version of Trinity iconography portrayed three identical men. This form had precedents in medieval European art, but more or less disappeared when it regained popularity in the Spanish colonies. However, it was condemned in the 18th century by
Pope Benedict XIV but remained a popular form in New Mexico which was so far from the cultural centers of the Mexico that it developed its own unique art forms. (for more about New Mexican religious art visit the Sept. 6, 2014 post of this blog "Understanding New Mexico's Santos http://colonialmexicoinsideandout.blogspot.com/2014/09/understanding-new-mexicos-santos.html).
|Templo de San Matias Jalatlaco, Oaxaca MX|
|by Pedro Antonio Fresquis, 19th century New Mexico|
|by José Manuel Benavides, New Mexico, 19th century New Mexico|
A related iconographic type had a single human figure with three faces. There were examples of this in Europe, but these were attacked by the Church and in the 17th century were forbidden by Pope Urban VIII. In the New World, further from Papal surveillance, these images became most popular in South America.