Filippo Lippi, St. Augustine's Vision of the Trinity

Tempera on wood
Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy
(Provenance: Church of Santo Spirito, Florence)

This is the right predella panel of the Barbadori Altarpiece. I have not found anything about a vision of the Trinity in the various vitae of St. Augustine. The painting is most likely based on Confessions, IX, 2:3, "Thou hadst pierced our heart with thy love, and we carried thy words, as it were, thrust through our vitals," where the word translated "pierced" is sagittaveras, either "you shot arrows" or "you shot an arrow." Here we see three arrows that have been shot into the saint's heart from an oddly rendered Trinity. It could be argued that Augustine's words in the passage do not concern the Trinity and are set not in a monastery but during the run-up to his baptism, but that would leave us with no explanation for the painting at all.

The portraying of the Trinity as three faces on a single head or a single man was severely condemned in later centuries. Perhaps this choice was influenced by the phraseology of trinitarian doctrine, in which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God's personae – a word that in other contexts means false or fictional faces.1

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Photographed at the Uffizi by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

1 Lewis and Short, s.v. "Persona."