Massacio: Holy Trinity

Sunday, February 19, AD 2012

A stunningly good meditation on Massacio’s Holy Trinity (1425) in the Wall Street Journal, of all places, by  art historian Jack Flam:



The perspective in this painting is sufficiently accurate to be convincing, but purposely inexact enough to make space for the supernatural. This is strikingly evident in the representation of God the Father, who stands on the narrow ledge attached to the back wall of the barrel-vaulted space, which would appear to be about nine feet deep. Yet at the same time, He is also present at the front of this same vaulted space, supporting the body of his Son on the cross. This discrepancy in perspective allows God to be in more than one place at a time—a supernatural phenomenon made all the more remarkable by the painting’s apparent realism.


Among other things, this great fresco, painted on the wall of a Dominican church, is a stunning affirmation of the great Dominican theologian St. Thomas Aquinas’s assertion that to be “everywhere primarily and absolutely is proper to God.” What better place could there be to state this with such subtlety than in a representation of the Holy Trinity, whose paradoxical consubstantiality—distinct, yet of one being—is a central mystery of Christian faith.

Go here to read the brilliant rest.  Great artists share with great saints the ability to turn our hearts and minds to God.

3 Responses to Massacio: Holy Trinity

  • Thanks for this, Don. A beautiful thing to contemplate after a grim week. The WSJ actually is pretty good when it comes to the arts. I’ve always liked reading Terry Teachout’s theater and music reviews.

    Something else that made me smile this morning: turning on the TV and seeing my old Archbishop being installed as a Cardinal. God bless Cardinal Dolan! We Milwaukeans miss his warmth and joyfulness but the Lord had bigger plans for him. He is a great asset to our Church.

  • So amazing and beautiful. Faith and reason understood so well by an artist in his 20’s to do this in ~28 days. (& described so well for us)
    Religious art was and is valuable for teaching people in countless ways. Our young need the advantage it brings to their faith, unlike the prevalent ‘cartoons’ presented to them.

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