Giraudon/Art Resource

God, Mary and Jesus, Matthias Grünewald (1509). Enthroned in billowing yellow clouds, the God of the German artist Matthias Grünewald watches over Mary and the infant Jesus. Grünewald’s God holds the scepter, symbol of temporal power, and the cross-surmounted orb, symbolizing God’s rulership over the world. The shining figure wears simple, voluminous garments and is surrounded by a mandorla, an emanation of light. The clouds about him are inhabited by angels with hands raised in praise.

On earth, Mary smiles as she tenderly holds Jesus before her on a torn cloth, an allusion to the crucifixion. She is seated an enclosed garden, a symbolic reference to her virginity, and is the “rose without a thorn” (shown at right), and “the dwelling of the lord,” (the church in the background), all phrases from the litany of the Virgin Mary. This painting is part of the central panel of a three-paneled altarpiece in the convent of the Antonites at Isenheim in Alsace. The shape of the central panel a blunt inverted T, divided into wings that open out from the center. The cut out, upper right, is the result of this T-shape.