chapter  6
37 Pages

The Tree of Jesse in Northern France

BySusan L. Green

As the preceding chapters have demonstrated, there was a renewed interest in Tree of Jesse iconography in Germany and the Netherlands from c.1450. Previous studies, such as those by Émile Mâle and Séverine Lepape, have also identified a similar development in northern France, where the phenomenon manifested itself predominantly in a number of magnificent stained glass windows. 1 During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the Tree of Jesse, with its bottom to top reading, had been a popular subject for French stained glass but, with the decline in cathedral building, comparatively few examples exist from the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. However, during the period of recovery that took place following the Hundred Years’ War, a time of prosperity and stability, it seems the subject became fashionable once again, and new windows were commissioned: first in Normandy and then in Champagne and Brittany. 2 More than one hundred religious buildings in these three regions either retain a late fifteenth- or early sixteenth-century Jesse window, or have fragments indicating that such a window was once in situ. Of these, only two windows appear in cathedrals, with the remainder found predominantly in parish churches. This chapter will examine the scale and nature of the renewed popularity of the motif in northern France, not previously considered in any great depth. As with representations in other media, it will suggest a link between the late medieval use of the Tree of Jesse motif and the dynastic aspirations of its patrons, and it will also consider the role of German and Netherlandish artists and models in the dissemination of new forms of representation.