The Tree of Jesse in Sacred Art

The season of Advent is synonymous with many things; Advent wreaths, Advent hymns and so on, but another symbol that is strongly associated with this liturgical season is that of the Tree of Jesse. This is manifest in the scriptural readings associated to this period of liturgical time, and it is also manifest in the O antiphon, O Radix Jesse. To understand what "Tree of Jesse" intends to refer to, we need to back up and consider the following passages from sacred scripture:

"There shall be a root of Jesse; and He that shall rise up to rule the Gentiles, in Him the Gentiles shall hope." (Romans 15: 11-13)

"On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him; a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength; a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land's afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness the belt upon his hips. Then the wolf shall best a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf the young shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbours, together their young shall rest... There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea. On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious." (Isaiah 11: 1-10)

In essence then, the image of the tree relates to a family tree; that is to say, the genealogy of Christ coming from the line of David and born in Bethlehem. It is within this context that we can understand why there is an association between the "Tree of Jesse" and the season of Advent which leads us up to the birth of Christ. 

The Tree of Jesse is something we have frequently seen depicted within sacred art. It shows Christ and the Virgin at the top of this tree (or in some instances, the Virgin holding the Christ-child) with Jesse reclining at the bottom and trunk proceeding forth from his side; proceeding upward to Christ are various Old Testament figures, including King David and often King Solomon. This imagery has appeared in various forms through the course of two millennia, from stained glass to manuscripts, icons, murals, sculptured carvings and more. 

Today I thought we would take a moment and look at a few examples of such in some different mediums.

Manuscript Illumination:

Missal Art:

Church Decoration:

Stained Glass:


Wall Paintings:



Vestment Arts:

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