The Jesse tree represents Jesus’ family tree. The earliest depiction of this subject dates from 1086, in the Codex Vyssegradensis, the Coronation Gospel of Vratislas II of Bohemia.
This extremely rare piece, made of limestone, is in fact a fragment of this family tree. This motif reveals a medieval theology of holy history that presents the Old Testament as a preparation for the New Testament. These representations often feature a phrase from Isaiah: “A branch will come forth from the stock of Jesse, a shoot will sprout from his roots. The spirit of the Lord will rest upon him”. This serves to illustrate the fact that God has announced the birth of a new David, in his descendants.
The set must have been located in a church, perhaps a private one. The original blue polychrome has rubbed off over time on the face of the figure on the right. These characters were saints, the most represented being Mary, Jesse, Moses, but also David and Noah. The two figures each emerge from a flower connected to a branch from which leaves also emerge.
On the right, we can see a woman in a halo, wearing a cloak, a veil covering her head, her arms crossed, one of which is invisible as it is hidden under the cloak, while the other protrudes to reveal her right hand. Her face, typical of medieval art, is tilted, and her gaze conveys two emotions: on the one hand, it gives the impression that the figure is immersed in deep reflection; on the other, one might have the impression that she is casting a look of benevolence, much as a mother might do towards her son.
We can see tool marks on the work, mainly on the characters’ clothing. It resembles small ribs that add volume to the sculpture.
This woman could be the Samaritan woman, who was sometimes depicted in this type of work, or the widow of Sarepta, a character not often present in religious writings, but sometimes inserted in representations of the Jesuit tree.
The figure to his right is most likely a man, given the way his garment is cut. His face, though missing, was also provided with a halo, of which a small piece remains visible. We can’t see his hands, which are clasped in the sleeves of his coat.
Many stained glass windows depicting the Tree of Jesse remain in various churches. Of particular note is that of Notre-Dame de Chartres Cathedral, located beneath the rose window on the west façade, which has been listed as a historic monument since 1840.
In addition to representing Jesus’ ancestors, the tree is also symbolic of protection, peace and resilience in the face of life’s trials.