Vladimir Putin presented the Russian Orthodox Church with one of the most valuable works of ancient Russian art - "Trinity" by Andrei Rublev. Now the icon of the 15th century, which is stored in the Tretyakov Gallery under special conditions under the constant supervision of restorers, will be transferred to the church. Art historians call it a disaster and predict that the "Trinity" will be lost. Experts also point out that the arguments about the sacred meaning of Rublev's work are untenable and speak not of Christian, but of magical consciousness.
The message about the transfer of the "Trinity" appeared on May 15 on the website of the Moscow Patriarchate. The next day, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, speaking at a meeting of the Synod, said that he had applied to the presidential administration with a request to give the icon for two weeks in order to exhibit it in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in honor of the Trinity holiday (June 4). According to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, in response to this “modest wish,” Putin decided to give Rublev’s work to the church for good.
“God grant that the return of the great shrine of our Church for the constant worship of believers strengthens the faith in our people, so that the prayers shed before this image are heard by the Lord. And today in these prayers there is a request for peace, for the prosperity of our Fatherland, for an end to all internecine warfare and for peace and prosperity to return to the Russian land, ”concluded the patriarch.
At the same time, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov answered questions about the Trinity that the decision was agreed with Putin, but "in documenting this is the prerogative of the Ministry of Culture." The Ministry of Culture, in turn, said that they were transferring the icon of the Russian Orthodox Church “for long-term safekeeping” and that it would, as before, be stored “in a special capsule that provides for maintaining the temperature and humidity regime.”
Alexey Lidov, art historian, byzantologist, academician of the Russian Academy of Arts (RAKh), told The Insider that even the transportation of the Trinity threatens with irreparable consequences.
“All professional restorers unanimously say that the state of the Trinity board is such that any movement of it, even for a short distance, is fraught with danger and the icon may simply die. Back in 2010, there was an expanded academic council, in which I took part, in connection with a request to transfer the icon to the [Holy Trinity Sergius] Lavra. There were special reports from the restorers with detailed photographs that showed that the transportation itself was in danger of death or very serious losses. This is a crime against Russian culture.”
The transfer of church property from state ownership to the ownership of the ROC began back in the 1990s, and in 2010 a federal law was adopted on the transfer of religious property to religious organizations.
“This is a very old story, which had its bursts and climaxes, one of which was just in 2010 on the eve of the adoption of the law on the return of property. This story carries the threat of destruction of a huge number of monuments, because most of the ancient icons are in a very fragile state. This happened with the icon of the Mother of God of Bogolyubskaya of the 12th century, transferred to the Church, which, in the conditions of non-museum storage, was almost destroyed. With colossal labors, the best restorers brought it back to life.
Theoretically, it is possible to recreate museum conditions in the church, as in the case of Our Lady of Vladimir , for which a special safe-ark was made with a special temperature and humidity inside. In this ark, it is kept in the Church of St. Nicholas in Tolmachi, which is also a kind of Tretyakov Gallery for the Church, and the rector of the church is an employee of the Tretyakov Gallery. This is a rare example of a relatively successful compromise, although it is still not clear why the great monument of world art should be in the church and cannot be replaced by a high-quality copy, as it usually was.
For me, the idea of preservation of monuments is absolutely fundamental. If there is a threat to the physical existence of monuments, as it is in relation to most ancient icons, then any talk that they should be located only in the church and nowhere else is a crime against culture. It is no coincidence that the Church itself in the 19th century began to create the so-called diocesan ancient repositories, where these ancient icons were placed. This is important, because most of these [old, worn-out] icons were destroyed according to the Byzantine canons: they had to be buried or burned, and holy myrrh was boiled on this holy fire on Maundy Thursday. This is how most of the Byzantine icons perished, which have not come down to us.”
There is no hope that the church will create the right storage conditions for the Trinity, Slava Shvets, an art critic and a graduate of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, told The Insider. After a three-day stay at the Holy Trinity Sergius Lavra in the summer of 2022, the icon's condition deteriorated significantly - the restorers counted more than 60 damages.
“From last year's experience, it is known that the icon was returned in a very poor condition, with damage to the paint layer, microcracks, and they were going to restore and strengthen it for at least another year and a half. It is pointless to hope that it will be exhibited in suitable conditions. Most likely we have already lost it, it's a matter of time.
The argument “sacred meaning is more important than artistic value” not only puts an end to the Russian Federation as a secular state, where the church was separated from the state, but also directly contradicts the second commandment [“Do not make an idol for yourself”], not to mention the dogma of icon veneration . From the believer's point of view, there is no difference between the original "Trinity" attributed to Rublev and its copy made by any artist, or its poster, or photograph.
A matter of faith is not a matter of authenticity. The question of authenticity as applied to religion is asked only in the case of talismans or amulets, in the case of magical thinking. Only in paganism are there weak or strong amulets. Since we worship God, and not his image, it does not matter at all whether we look at the original Trinity or its copy at the moment of prayer.
I have bad news for everyone: in general, there [in Russia] the era of science ended and the era of magic began. This is not about faith, not about religion, not about Christ. Now this means that some people, not only from the Russian Orthodox Church, can demand any object from any museum, and if a person has enough power, then it will be removed from the museum. The museum is engaged in preservation and conservation. We lost a bunch of icons from the 6th, 7th and 8th centuries, which we destroyed during processions, religious holidays, and so on. It would seem that from the 6th century they could grow wiser and begin to separate one from the other.
According to Schwetz, a reasonable compromise on works of religious art can be seen in Rome, the center of the Catholic faith.
“We have the Descent from the Cross by Raphael, which had hung in the church for many years before. Now a good copy hangs in the church, and no one has any problems, everyone prays for a copy. If you suddenly find yourself in the [Borghese] gallery and it strikes you, then you can pray for a painting that works like an icon.
In the Sistine Chapel, a priest comes every half an hour and says: “We are in a sacred place. I ask for seven minutes of silence. Brothers, let us pray!” and everyone stands and reads “Our Father”. This happens all the time in the Sistine Chapel. If you look at Michelangelo, then you are discussing him, and if at this moment you are also a believer, then you just come, kneel down and pray. There is a priest standing there, you can talk to him and even confess.”
Grigory Mikhnov-Vaitenko, archbishop of the Apostolic Orthodox Church, in an interview with The Insider also rejected the argument about the “sacredness” of the Trinity, because of which it supposedly must be in the church.
“In Christianity, the true value is the prototype, and not material objects. What matters is the artistic image created by Rublev and replicated a million times, which is preserved in memory, in the minds, hearts, consciousness, and so on, and the board itself with the image, in fact, loses this sacredness, but acquires historical and cultural value. It is a miracle that it has been preserved for so many hundreds of years, and this requires extremely careful and careful handling. In general, Christianity is condescending to any kind of artifacts. It is no coincidence that the Lord Jesus Christ did not leave any material trace of himself: neither a grave, nor a body, but simply ceased to be here, ascending to heaven.