|In I Kings 16:1-13
the prophet Samuel visits Jesse and designates his son David
as God's choice to succeed King Saul. Matthew 1:6ff makes
"Jesse the father of David" an ancestor of Jesus, as does
In medieval typological thinking, Jesse's importance is intensified by two verses from Isaiah 11: "And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root" (verse 1) and "In that day the root of Jesse, who standeth for an ensign of the people, him the Gentiles shall beseech, and his sepulchre shall be glorious" (verse 10). In biblical commentaries, Christian writers took these verses as prophecies of the Christ; in the art, the "Jesse Tree" traced the lineage from Jesse to David and then on to Jesus.
Some Jesse Trees are purely genealogical, like the one in St. Mark's, Venice (the last image at right). Others, like the first two at right, add scenes from scripture alongside figures in the genealogy.
Jesse can also be portrayed solo, with a tree as his attribute, as in the west portal at Notre-Dame la Grande, Poitiers.
Prepared in 2014 at Georgia Regents University by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English