The Tree of Jesse: The Maternal Ancestors of Jesus, with the Virgin and Child in the Upper Branches

Artist/maker unknown, English

Made in Nottingham, England, Europe

15th century

Alabaster with paint and gilding

26 x 9 inches (66 x 22.9 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Decorative Arts and Sculpture

* Gallery 202, European Art 1100-1500, second floor

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Purchased with Museum Funds from the George Grey Barnard Collection, 1945

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Nottingham alabasters often appeared in sets with an established theme and, much like painted altarpieces, were frequently used to decorate the backs of altars. Few groups, however, remain intact and in their original locations. This example depicts the popular subject of the life of the Virgin Mary. Such altarpieces were exported to a number of Western European countries.

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art Handbook (2014 Edition)

    Alabaster sculpture flourished in England from the late fourteenth until the mid-sixteenth century, and examples were traded throughout Europe. English sculptors specialized in small-scale carvings of religious scenes that could be displayed individually or in groups to form large altarpieces. In this exceptionally well-preserved panel illustrating the ancestors of Christ, a marvelously undercut vine bearing the forebears of Jesus sprouts from the chest of the reclining figure of Jesse, father of King David. The sculpture likely was part of an altarpiece celebrating the Virgin Mary; another alabaster panel in the Museum’s collection shows the Annunciation and probably belonged to the same ensemble. The Museum acquired these and other important medieval objects from the collection of American sculptor George Grey Barnard (1863–1938; see, for example, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1945-25-39, 1945-25-72, 1945-25-86a,b, 1945-25-117,a--s), whose interest in the art of the Middle Ages was formative to its display and study in this country. Jack Hinton, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2014, p. 102.

* Works in the collection are moved off view for many different reasons. Although gallery locations on the website are updated regularly, there is no guarantee that this object will be on display on the day of your visit.