In the late 16th century Michael Praetorius composed the music for the Christmas carol “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” which remains popular to this day. He probably had in mind representations of the “Tree of Jesse” like this one on the Dominican altarpiece. The vine illustrates Jesus’ line of descent from the Jewish patriarchs Abraham and Isaac through Jesse, David, Solomon, and Mary: “Of Jesse’s lineage coming.”
For the Dominicans Holbein added a parallel image to the “Tree of Jesse”: Beginning with the order’s founder Dominic, he presents a spiritual family tree of all the saints that emerged from within the order’s ranks. In the ecclesiastical rivalry with the Frankfurt Carmelites and Franciscans, the Dominicans thus presented themselves to the faithful as effective intermediaries for salvation. The painting succinctly illustrates the Dominicans’ privileged access to heaven in the centre of the composition: The Blessed Virgin Mary herself bestows the white scapular on the Dominican Saint Reginald of Orléans as part of his monastic habit.