Jesse the Patriarch
The Iconography
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 Luke 3:23-32.

In Romans 15:12 Paul refers to Isaiah's prophecy that "In that day the root of Jesse, who standeth for an ensign of the people, him the Gentiles shall beseech," taking it to refer to Christ. On this basis Christian art developed a tradition of placing Jesse at the bottom of a family "tree" that rises up through the Old Testament kings and prophets to reach Mary and Jesus at the top.

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 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University. Revised 2016-12-13.


Detail of a Jesse Tree: Jesse the Patriarch (See the description page) for large images of the entire tree

Complete Jesse Tree, Orvieto Cathedral (See the description page for detail images and discussion)

Summit of the Jesse Tree at St. Mark's, Venice (See the description page)