chapter  5
23 Pages

The Tree of Jesse and Antwerp Carved Altarpieces

BySusan L. Green

In addition to its use in southern German retables, the Tree of Jesse motif can be found in a large number of Antwerp carved altarpieces of the early sixteenth century, yet this has never been investigated as part of an iconographical study. 1 In order to try to establish why the theme became such a speciality of some southern Netherlandish workshops, this chapter will adopt a slightly different approach to the earlier ones. It will begin with a brief consideration of the nature of the Antwerp art market, followed by an examination of how the Tree of Jesse was typically employed by carvers. It will then focus on three works: the Pailhe, Bocholt and Gifhorn altarpieces, which all feature the subject at the centre of the caisse. Although the Bocholt retable was exhibited as part of the 1993 Antwerp Altarpiece Exhibition, and the Pailhe retable was the subject of an article by Ria de Boodt in 1996, there is little other recent literature regarding these works, and they have never been considered in relation to their specific subject matter. 2 Previous scholarship has tended to assume that, in order to speed up production, there was a great degree of standardisation between Antwerp altarpieces. A detailed analysis of these works will try to ascertain to what extent this hypothesis might be true, proposing, at least with regard to these particular examples, that this theory may be overly reductive.