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The Tree of Jesse

Tree of Jesse

The Tree of Jesse, drawing of the unique plaster ceiling in Dartmouth MuseumNamed after its unique plaster ceiling portraying the "Tree of Jesse" from Matthew Chapter 1. Believed to be the only example of this depiction now in existence. The pattern of scrolls emerging from the reclining figure of Jesse holding a skull embraces rows of little figures ending with the mother of Jesus with the babe in her arm.

Wikipedia tells us a great deal about The Tree of Jesse:

The Tree of Jesse is a depiction in art of the Ancestors of Christ, shown in a tree which rises from Jesse of Bethlehem, the father of King David; the original use of the family tree as a schematic representation of a genealogy. It originates in a passage in the Biblical Book of Isaiah which describes metaphorically the descent of the Messiah, and is accepted by Christians as referring to Jesus. The subject is often seen in Christian art, particularly in that of the Medieval period. The earliest example dates from the 11th century.

The passage in Isaiah, 11:1 is: "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. In the Latin Vulgate Bible used in the Middle Ages this was: "et egredietur virga de radice Iesse et flos de radice eius ascendet " or ".. a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up...". Flos, pl floris is Latin for flower. Virga is a "green twig", "rod" or "broom", as well as a convenient near-pun with Virgo or Virgin, which undoubtedly influenced the development of the image. Thus Jesus is the Virga Jesse or "shoot of Jesse".

In the New Testament the lineage of Jesus is traced by two of the Gospel writers, Matthew and Luke. Luke describes the "generations of Christ" in Chapter 3 of Luke's Gospel, beginning with Jesus himself and tracing backwards through his "earthly father" Joseph all the way to Adam.

Matthew's Gospel opens with the words: "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham". With this beginning Matthew makes clear Jesus' whole lineage: He is of God's chosen people, by his descent from Abraham, and he is the "shoot of Jesse" by his descent from Jesse's son, King David. The figures shown are drawn from the genealogies in the Gospels, usually showing only a selection.

We can't make The Jesse Room freely open yet, the architecture of the building and the fact that we need to store our reserve items somewhere means that access needs to be planned. But we want as many visitors as possible to see the room. If we can show it to you when you visit - generally this means at a time when there aren't a huge number of other visitors - then we will. But we do run an appointment system for it. Please Get In Touch to arrange to view it. Please try your best to give us at least a day's notice.

Reserve Items

Like most museums we are unable to show all the items we hold. These are currently stored in the Jesse Room, which is housed in the same physical building as the main museum, but with different access. We rotate artefacts from our reserve items into our main collections periodically. If there is something you need to see for research please Get In Touch to arrange to view it. Please try your best to give us at least a day's notice.


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