6 Pages


BySusan L. Green

Tree of Jesse iconography has a long history, spanning many centuries, yet despite the destruction caused by war, iconoclasm, natural disasters and changing tastes, the survival in large numbers of so many different objects that date from the mid-fifteenth to early sixteenth centuries, is clearly extraordinary. As these objects predominantly originated in the Low Countries and Germany, they provide overriding evidence of a significant cultural movement, one with deep roots in the religious beliefs of the day. This book is the first detailed investigation to focus on the late medieval use of the Tree of Jesse, and it attempts to expand a traditional analysis of the subject beyond the relatively narrow confines of a purely iconographic study. By trying to understand the particular circumstances for the employment and reception of the motif and associated iconography, it has been possible to demonstrate how works that incorporate it functioned, challenging previous misconceptions and oversimplifications. As this study has illustrated, the Tree of Jesse was not simply a genealogy of Christ, or of the Virgin. It evolved into something more complex, which could be modified to satisfy specific religious requirements. It was also able to function on a more temporal level, reflecting not only a clerical preoccupation with a sense of communal identity, but also a more general interest in displaying a family’s heritage, continuity and/or social status. Consequently, by the late medieval period, the Tree of Jesse had become a flexible symbol, one whose inherent integrity could be augmented to convey complicated ideas in a format that would have been immediately recognised and understood by a contemporary audience.