The Butterwalk, Duke Street, Dartmouth TQ6 9PZ 01803 832923

The Jesse Room

In the main room of the merchant’s house at the other end of the Butterwalk is a unique plastered ceiling of national, or even international, importance. Depicted in high relief is the Tree of Jesse, a representation of the family tree of Jesus Christ, rising from the body of Jesse of Bethlehem, the father of David, and finishing with the Messiah. The subject is often seen in Christian art, in paintings and stained glass windows, particularly in the Medieval period. It is believed that the example in the Butterwalk is the only representation in plaster.

That the Jesse ceiling survived the religious turmoil of the 17th Century is somewhat of a mystery. The Butterwalk houses were completed in 1640, just before the English Civil War. The plasterwork is of the style seen elsewhere, in the similarly dated but wrongly titled Tudor House in Higher Street, for example. If the Jesse ceiling was in existence during the Civil War, it escaped depredation by the Parliamentarian soldiery when Fairfax re-took the town in 1646. St Saviour’s Church suffered defacement of imagery at that time. Perhaps the ceiling was kept secret from prying eyes or perhaps it was installed during the Restoration of King Charles II?

Much of the ceiling was brought down by a bomb in 1943 but the Borough Engineer carefully collected all the pieces, compared them with drawings, numbered them and stored them in straw in boxes, so that the ceiling could be restored after the war, which was done to remarkable effect. Just two figures were lost.

The Jesse Room is in the stewardship of the Museum and used as a store and committee room, accessed from the street. Visitors are welcome to view the plasterwork. Please ask at Reception. In the event only one person is on duty it would not be possible to leave the Museum unattended, but we would be pleased to arrange a mutually convenient future viewing.

The paintings held by the Museum are catalogued in the Art UK web site .

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