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Tree of Jesse, in the 'Shaftesbury Psalter'

Tree of Jesse, in the 'Shaftesbury Psalter'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1135

Shelfmark: Lansdowne MS 383

Item number: f.15r

Length: 22.1

Width: 12.5

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated Manuscript

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In the middle ages, there was a nunnery at Shaftesbury, and this psalter appears to have been made there or to have been modelled after a manuscript from Shaftesbury. Its calendar (used to coordinate prayers with saints' days and other feasts) and litany (a prayer appealing to saints for their help) mention saints who were especially venerated at Shaftesbury. The figures in its many pictures resemble a carving found at nearby Milborne St Andrew. Although its origins at Shaftesbury can not be shown beyond a doubt, it is certain that it was made for a female reader, probably an abbess. Recently a scholar suggested that it was made for Queen Adeliza, the widow of Henry I.

One of eight full-page images which precede the psalms, a picture of the Tree of Jesse is the second in image in a pair with 'Christ in Majesty'. The Tree of Jesse is an abbreviated 'family tree' of the ancestors of Jesus, showing the sleeping Jesse with the tree growing from his body. On the trunk of the tree, a picture of King David, believed to be the author of the psalms, holds scrolls of prophecy which reach out to flanking figures of Abraham and Moses. Above him, the Virgin and then Christ are depicted, with the Holy Spirit at the top, descending from heaven. Not just a documentary image about Jesus's ancestry, it is meant to be a contemplative image on the Incarnation and also to Christianise the Old Testament by seeing it as prophecy of Christ and the church.

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