chapter  1
13 Pages

The Tree of Jesse and the Speculum Humanae Salvationis

BySusan L. Green

The Speculum humanae salvationis (Mirror of human salvation) was one of the most widely disseminated and influential works of the late Middle Ages. Thought to have originated in the early fourteenth century, this text uses the medieval system of typo-logical representation to illustrate events from the story of salvation, many of which are drawn from the apocrypha. Following earlier precedents, the Tree of Jesse is used as a prefiguration for the Birth of the Virgin. The subject is therefore not only placed in a Marian context, but is also linked to the mother of the Virgin, Saint Anne, whose popularity reached a peak in northern Europe during the course of the fifteenth century. 1 The influence that these manuscripts and subsequent blockbooks had on late medieval iconographic programmes has long been recognised, although exactly how these texts might have acted as the agent for a shift in contemporary perceptions of the Tree of Jesse motif has not been previously considered. This chapter will discuss the Speculum humanae salvationis in some detail, to ascertain to what extent it might have encouraged and influenced renewed interest in Tree of Jesse iconography.