I the Lord have dried up the green tree, and caused the dry tree to flourish

Petrus Christus – Our Lady of the Dry Tree (1462)

I the Lord have dried up the green tree, and caused the dry tree to flourish
– Ezekiel 17:24

The image on my Taschen desk calendar for March 1st was this stunning painting, “Our Lady of the Dry Tree”. It immediately brought to mind the German Advent carol “Maria durch ein Dornwald ging”:

Maria durch ein Dornwald ging,
Kyrie eleison
Maria durch ein Dornwald ging,
der hat in sieben Jahr kein Laub getragen.
Jesus und Maria!

Was trug Maria unterm Herzen?
Kyrie eleison
Ein kleines Kindlein ohne Schmerzen,
das trug Maria unter ihrem Herzen.
Jesus und Maria!

Da haben die Dornen Rosen getragen,
Kyrie eleison
Als das Kindlein durch den Wald getragen,
da haben die Dornen Rosen getragen.
Jesus und Maria!

Mary walked though a thorn forest,
Kyrie eleison
Mary walked though a thorn forest,
which had borne no leaves for seven years
Jesus and Mary!

What was Mary wearing under her heart?
Kyrie eleison
A small child without pain,
was Mary wearing under her heart.
Jesus and Mary!

The thorns have born roses
Kyrie eleison
Because Mary bore Jesus through the forest
The thorns have born roses
Jesus and Mary!

Seeing the letters glittering in the thorn tree in this image reminds me of the almond tree, which is associated with the menorah in the first Jewish Temple (the Temple of Solomon) and the presence of the divine wisdom (Hokmah or Sophia). The letters hanging from the tree are like the almond flowers, or the candles of the menorah (which was decorated with almond flowers: see Exodus 25). Recall that 70 years after King Josiah’s purge of the temple, in which the angels and the menorah were removed, the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and the Jews were deported into captivity in Babylon.

According to the website The Secret History of Art, Petrus Christus was a member of a religious confraternity called the Confraternity of Our Lady of the Dry Tree. They write: Because of its unique nature, it is safe to assume that the imagery comes from the rituals or specific belief-sets of the Confraternity of Our Lady of the Dry Tree, rather than any published source in literature, Biblical apocrypha, or mythology. In this case, I have to disagree with art history: this is a clear reference to the Holy Wisdom. The evidence is that Petrus Christus and the Confraternity, at some level, understood this.

By the way, the letter a is thought to stand for Ave Maria. Fifteen in number, the fifteen letter a‘s represent the fifteen decades of the Rosary, whilst the shape of the thorn tree shows that the thorns are a reference to the Crown of Thorns.

The painting hangs at the Thyssen Museum in Madrid.

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~ by scalambra on July 8, 2012.

One Response to “I the Lord have dried up the green tree, and caused the dry tree to flourish”

  1. Wisdom humbly wears the crown of thorns.

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