chapter  2
40 Pages

The Tree of Jesse and Saint Anne

BySusan L. Green

Saint Anne became a figure of great authority in parts of northern Europe in the late medieval period. 1 In addition to the emphasis placed on her as the mother of the Virgin in the Speculum humanae salvationis, devotion was also promoted by a series of Lives, which were particularly prevalent in the Netherlands and Germany. 2 These texts popularised and propagated the legend of the saint’s three marriages, first recounted in the apocrypha. Sometimes referred to as the Trinubium, this myth was often illustrated by an image known as the Holy Kinship. 3 This chapter will consider how the preoccupation with the cult of Saint Anne and her legend may have also contributed to the renewed interest in the Tree of Jesse motif. It will argue that the Tree of Jesse, an already well established visual metaphor for the genealogy of Christ and the Virgin, was appropriated to imply a specific role in the story of salvation for Saint Anne, who was consciously promoted by many humanist scholars as an appropriate role model for women to emulate. Many of the devotional objects examined in this chapter are rarely discussed in the art-historical literature, yet when considered together they demonstrate how there was a development in imagery, and how a conflation of the themes of the Tree of Jesse and Holy Kinship at the end of the fifteenth century, led to fully developed and cohesive representations in the early sixteenth. It will then be argued that once these images became established, they were abridged or adapted to reflect the particular concerns of individual patrons, although they still remained a visual signifier for the larger iconography. Furthermore, it will be suggested that some of these works may have had a commemorative function, linking ideas of holy and earthly lineage. A clear picture emerges of an iconography that was dynamic and current, reflecting both the theological and more rudimentary preoccupations of the day.