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The Tree of Jesse

Central Russia

1730-40 c.
Room 2
Tempera on wood
32 x 27.6 cm
1890 no. 6171

The prophet Isaiah is shown sleeping at the bottom of the panel. Above him eleven medallions arranged in a tree depict holy figures, all identified via inscriptions. Top centre, the largest circle depicts the Virgin with the Christ child, and God the Father looking on from the clouds. The two medallions to either side of the Virgin and Child shows busts of James and Jeremiah. The intermediate level features Ahaz, Hosea, Azariah and James (sic) as kings, with Manasseh, David, Solomon and Jehoram below them.

The icon depicts a subject inspired by a prophecy of Isaiah's relating to the incarnation of the Son of God (And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him Isaiah, 11, 1-2). Like in a genealogical tree, the medallions show Jesus's ancestors according to the genealogy set out by the Gospels of Matthew (1, 1-17) and Luke (3, 28-38).

The Uffizi icon offers a simplified version of this theme with the figures apparently shown randomly. The double inscription identifying James with two different figures is evidence that the artist making the icon lacked in-depth knowledge of the composition.

The simplification of the profiles, which are somewhat out of proportion, and the model, which was brightened up with white lead, has affinities with other work in the Uffizi collections (9342, 9344, 9324, 9356, 9358, 6173, 9363, 9364), perhaps the work of a range of painters from a single workshop, or of a single master artist whose work quality depended on the importance of the commission.

Text by
Daniela Parenti
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