Monday, 17 December 2012

The Jesse Tree

It's been a little while since my last posting... You know how it is -- December is a month for family and friends visiting and for panicking and shopping and, well, failing to get stuff done.  I even got a little bit of writer's block, if I'm honest, so I decided to turn to my leatherworking muse to try and shift it.  In doing research for tree designs, I came across the idea of a Jesse Tree -- an unfamiliar idea that actually should be very familiar, as it turns out.

A Jesse Tree from the Winchester Psalter, a 12th century book of psalms from England, made for the brother of King Stephen.  It depicts the line of Christ.  Yep, it's a family tree.

The chap lying down at the bottom is Jesse, father to David, who is the chap on the first fork of the tree.  It ascends up to Mary and then Jesus at the top.  The chaps at either side are actually prophets, holding the scriptures that point to the prophesy of Christ as the Messiah.  It's a fairly common theme in these scriptural family trees -- but they're not just kept to books.  Trees of Jesse are also depicted in stained glass windows in churches and as time went on, good grief, they got grand:

Stained glass Jesse Tree at Saint-Étienne's church in Beauvais, France, created between 1522-1524.  Jesse is the chap in the four-poster bed at the bottom.  To his left is Francis I of France and to his right is the Holy Roman Emporer Charlies V.  The rest are misc kings of Judea plus St. Louis.

It took two years for this to be put together -- it's no wonder really to look at it.  It's amazingly beautiful and detailed.  If you'd like to see better and more in detail pictures, check out this article by Professor Moriarty

It wasn't just stereotypical churchy things that got the whole Jesse Tree treatment either.  I came across a liturgical comb fragment that features this design:

Ivory comb fragment from Bavaria, Germany.  It's from between 1180-1220 and measures 3 5/8"x4" in size and has an insane amount of detail.  Each of the scriptures have writing in Latin, in incredibly small lettering...  How much skill?

Isiah is stood on the left, holding a scroll that translates to "And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse...".  I don't think they could have thought of a more unattractive way of putting it.  Yeesh.  That was probably the point though.

I've always wondered where the idea of a family tree actually came from.  Incidentally, the Jesse Tree bears no relation to the Christmas tree, even though I really looked for that connection -- well, you know.  It's December.  Everything has to be Christmas related, right?

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