National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution; gift of John Gellatly

Jonah, Albert Pinkham Ryder (1890). Immersed in the drama enacted before our eyes, God blesses the drowning Jonah. God holds the globe of the world as he glances sidelong at the great fish he had appointed to swallow Jonah (Jonah 1:17). Unlike the impassive God of Matthias Grünewald, (see photo of Grünewald’s God, Mary and Jesus), the American painter Albert Pinkham Ryder makes the apex of the action—here, a swirling ovoid that encompasses both the fish-shaped ship with its terrified crew, and the great fish itself, which bears down toward the floundering Jonah.

Ryder’s Jonah gives us one of the last antropomorphic God images, not only in American art, but in Western art. Ryder’s God has the special distinction of being possibly the only left-handed God in Western art. Contrary to received tradition, he gives the blessing with his left hand, and an extraordinarily large hand it is.