by Dcs. Carolyn S. Brinkley
In his oil painting, “Adoration of the Holy Trinity,” Albrecht Dürer gives you, the viewer, the opportunity to see a dazzling vision of Heaven with your very own eyes as it is happening at this very moment. Standing before the masterpiece, which today is housed in the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna, is a glorious experience! It is stunningly beautiful in size, coloring and magnificence. The painting surprises the eye with two distinct perspectives. At the same time you are both on earth and in Heaven. This is the reality in which we live as God’s dear baptized children. On the lower level the world is drab and ordinary. It is empty with the exception of the right corner where Dürer “signs” the painting with a small portrait of himself standing by a plaque inscribed “Albrecht Dürer of Nuremberg made this 1511 years after the Virgin.”
Looking up from the mundane earth, we are transported to Heaven! This is the reality that we experience in the liturgy of the Divine Service “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we laud and magnify your holy name evermore praising you and saying, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of power and might: Heaven and earth are full of Your glory. Hosanna in the highest!'” The center and focal point of the entire artwork is the Holy Trinity. The life, energy and motion of the painting emanate from the glory and righteousness of our God! Each Person of the Godhead is seen individually but yet as One triangular unit. It is a synopsis of the Nicene Creed. God the Father Almighty in kingly crown presents His only-begotten Son crucified for our salvation, as the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove hovers above as the Lord and Giver of life! Surrounding the Holy Trinity are two rings of winged angels, the highest encircling the Holy Spirit while other multitudes of the heavenly host focus on the cross of Christ. To the side of the cross, two distinct groups of saints are pictured. On the right John the Baptist leads the kneeling band of Old Testament kings and prophets. King David and Moses are clearly identifiable. On the left side Dürer pictures the New Testament saints following Mary as they wave palm branches of victory. Completing the Heavenly scene the artist paints the full company of the Holy Christian Church comprised of his living Renaissance contemporaries from the pope and the emperor to the monk and the peasant. This is where you and I fit in! We are part of Dürer’s “Adoration of the Holy Trinity”! Though we live on this earth we are citizens in Heaven already reigning with Christ through our Baptism where we were sealed and marked with His Triune Name. Heaven and earth meet in the Divine Service. It is here that we participate in the present reality of Christ’s victory over sin, death, and Satan. It is here that we join with all the saints in praise of our victorious Lord as we “sing with all the people of God and join in the hymn of all creation: Blessings, honor, glory, and might be to God and the Lamb forever. Amen. For the Lamb who was slain has begun His reign. Alleluia. This is the feast of victory for our God. Alleluia, alleluia, Alleluia!”
The Adoration of the Holy Trinity is oil on panel measuring 135 x126 cm. It was commissioned in 1508 by Mattias Landauer a metal trader in Nuremberg, Germany, for the chapel at the Twelve Brothers House. In 1585 the painting was sold to Emperor Rudolf II and taken to Vienna. The Twelve Brothers House was destroyed during World War II.
Deaconess Carolyn S. Brinkley is the Military Project Coordinator at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN.