Thursday, August 11, 2022

Saint Clare of Assisi

Saint Clare
Cutting from a Missal
Italian (Lombardy), c. 1425-1475
London, British Library
MS Additional 39663, fol. 18

Clare of Assisi is one of the greatest female saints of the Middle Ages and, possibly, one of the most overlooked in the modern world.  She was the first woman to follow Saint Francis of Assisi on his quest for closeness to God through perfect poverty, becoming the foundress of the second Franciscan Order, known originally as the Poor Ladies, but quickly becoming known as the Poor Clares.  However, her importance is not merely as a follower, but as a pioneer of a new kind of religious life for women, one for which she had to face considerable opposition during her life.

Clare was born in 1193 or 1194 to Favorino Scifi and Ortolana di Fiumi.  Her parents appear to have belonged to the Italian nobility, with her father apparently bearing the title of Count of Sasso-Rosso.  She grew up in the town of Assisi in the Umbrian region of Central Italy.  Virtually nothing is known of her childhood but, in 1212 at around the age of eighteen, her life changed dramatically.  In that year Saint Francis preached a series of Lenten sermons at the church of San Giorgio in Assisi.  The sermons touched Clare’s heart and roused in her a determination to live her life according to the principles by which Francis was living, that is, total poverty and apostolic zeal.  1

Altarpiece of Saint Clare
Italian, c. 1280s
Assisi, Monastery of Santa Chiara
This image, painted within thirty years of Clare's death, includes many scenes from her life. Surrounding the central image of the saint and running from bottom left to bottom right they are:  the incident with the palm at Mass, Clare's reception by Saint Francis, the cutting of her hair, her father's attempt to bring her home, Saint Clare ministering to the poor, the miracle of the loaves, and the death of Saint Clare.

On Palm Sunday, March 20, 1212, Clare attended the Palm Sunday Mass in the cathedral of Assisi.  At the moment when the congregation was expected to leave their places and move to the altar to collect palm branches, Clare remained in her place.  This attracted the attention of the bishop, who left the altar and walked to Clare.  When he reached her, he placed his own palm frond into her hand.  This seems to have been a sign to her that she had to act. 

That night Clare left her home, accompanied by her aunt, and went to the Portiuncula, the small chapel which Saint Francis was using for his recently established Order of Friars Minor.  There he met her, accompanied by his brothers, who carried candles or torches.  By the flickering light Francis cut the hair of Clare (a traditional act by which women expressed their renunciation of the world) and gave her a coarse brown habit, like those worn by the brothers.  He also brought her to the Benedictine convent of San Paolo, where she could receive her initial training in the religious life. 

Verre Eglomisé Pendant with Image of Saint Clare
Spanish, First Half of the 18th Century
Private Collection

Her father and other relatives attempted to remove her from the convent, but she was adamant about remaining.  Sixteen days after her flight from home, she was joined by her younger sister, Agnes.  Other women, including their mother, Ortolana, also joined them soon after.  Saint Francis gave them the buildings of the church of San Damiano to be their permanent home.  This is the same church that Francis rebuilt from ruin with his own hands at the beginning of his religious conversion.  Clare remained there for the rest of her life.

Saint Francis initially gave Saint Clare a brief outline of a Rule of Life lived in total poverty.  Others soon began to meddle, however.  The idea of women religious living such a life was probably of concern to most people.  Women were thought to be more fragile than men, not suited to such a difficult and potentially unstable life.  Most of the meddling was aimed at ensuring that the women wouldn’t suffer physical hardships.  And, attempts were made by two different Popes to impose a rule that would allow the women to own property from which they could be supported.  However, Clare would not agree to this and resisted each time.  Eventually, she triumphed and obtained a rule more closely aligned with the Franciscan one. 

Francesco Solimena, Ecstasy of Saint Clare
Italian, c. 1700-1745
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des Arts graphiques

She and her Sisters remained close to Saint Francis and his Friars during his lifetime.  When he died in 1226, his funeral procession made a special stop at San Damiano so that she and her nuns could venerate his body. 

During her life Clare remained at San Damiano, gaining a reputation as an especially pious woman.  She had a very strong devotion to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and her prayers before the monstrance or ciborium are credited with saving her convent and, indeed, the town of Assisi from invasion. She was a wise abbess to the nuns and was reported to be a miracle worker by the lay population.

Francois-Leon Benouville, Saint Clare Meditating
French, c. 1840-1859
Beauvais, MUDO, Musée de l'Oise

In her later years Clare appears to have suffered greatly from some debilitating illness, perhaps arthritis or something else, which kept her largely bedridden.  She died on August 11, 1253, at around the age of 60. 

Following her death, reports of miracles abounded, and she was canonized in 1255, only two years after her death.  She had initially been buried in her childhood parish of San Giorgio in Assisi, but after her canonization a new church, Santa Chiara, was built in her honor.  Her remains were transferred there in 1260.  In 1850 her remains were exhumed and in 1872 they were reburied in a new chapel within the same church.

Her feast day is celebrated on August 11th, the anniversary of her death.  Her name, which means “light” is borne by those named Clare, Claire, Clara, Klara, Chiara, and related names.


Iconography of Saint Clare

The iconography of Saint Clare seems to cluster around three main themes.  These are portraits of the saint by herself, scenes from the story of her life and Saint Clare in association with other saints, frequently but not exclusively Saint Francis.

Saint Clare by herself

These images tend to fall into several categories.  They show Saint Clare

As an Abbess

Technically speaking, Clare was the founding Abbess of the Order of Poor Ladies.  As such she is often shown holding the crozier (staff) that pertains to that position.


Ambrogio Lorenzetti, A Group of Four Poor Clares
Italian, c. 1336-1340
London, National Gallery
This strikingly handsome woman seen in profile may reflect some living memory of Saint Clare herself, as it was produced within about 83 years of her death.  It certainly represents the artist's idea of what she may have looked like.

Possibly Workshop of Jacques Pilavaine, Saint Clare
From Breviary of Anthony of Burgundy
Flemish (Mons), c. 1475
London, British Library
MS Harley 2967, fol. 208

Master S, Saint Clare
Flemish, c. 1500-1525
London, Trustees of the British Museum

Holding a Monstrance or Ciborium

Saint Clare had a great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, the conserved consecrated Hosts that are the real Body of Christ.  This also so refers to the event by which she is reported to have saved her convent and the town of Assisi from invasion by the forces of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II during his attempt to extend his power in Central Italy.  This is described in more detail below.


Christ Blessing David with Saint Clare in margin
Leaf From a Psalter
Flemish, c. 1275-1300
Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum
MS W.45, fol. 112r
It is interesting to note that within barely 20 years of her death in Central Italy, the image of Saint Clare with a monstrance was used by a Flemish illuminator.

Gold Scrolls Group, Saint Clare of Assisi
From a Missal
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1415-1425
New  York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 374, fol. 136v

Saint Clare of Assisi
From Fleur des histoires by Jean Mansel
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1450-1475
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 298, fol. 109r

Israhel van Meckenem, Saint Clare
German, c. 1465-1475
London, Trustees of the British Museum

Saint Clare of Assisi
German, c. 1470-1480
Washington, National Gallery of Art

Amico Aspertini, Saint Clare
From the Hours of Bonaparte Ghislieri
Italian (Bologna), c. 1500
London, British Library
MS Yates Thompson 29, fol. 62r

Circle of Juan de Borgonya, Saint Clare
Spanish, c. 1500-1533
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Saint Clare of Assisi
Italian, 16th Century
Rieti, Monastery of Fonte Colombo, Cappella della Maddalena

Giacomo Cavedone, Saint Clare Kneeling and Holding a Monatrance
Italian, First Half of 17th Century
London, Victoria and Albert Museum

Jean Leclerc IV, Saint Clare with a quotation from the Book of Wisdom, Verse 4
French, Late 16th/Early 17th Century
London, Trustees of the British Museum

Saint Clare Holding the Monstrance
Italian, 17th Century
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des Arts graphiques

Antoine Sallaert, Saint Clare
Flemish, c. 1609-1650
London, Trustees of the British Museum

Michiel Snyders, Saint Clare
Flemish, 1613
London, Trustees of the British Museum

Michel Lasne after Claude Vignon, Sancta Clara Exemplary Nun
French, c. 1621-1667
London, Trustees of the British Museum

Jacques Callot, Saint Clare
From Les Images de Tous les Saincts et Saintes de l'Annee
French, 1636
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
In the background we can see a back view of Saint Clare, with the monstance raised, driving away the attackers from the Imperial army.

Circle of Alonso del Arco, Saint Clare Holding a Monstrance
Spanish, Second Half of the 17th Century
Barnard Castle, Co. Durham (UK), The Bowes Museum

Alonso Cano, Saint Clare
Spanish, c. 1652
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Saint Clare
Italian, 17th Century
Nardo, Church of Sant'Antonio

Saint Clare
Porcelain Plaque
French (Sevres), c. 1731-1751
Sevres, Manufacture et musée nationaux

Janos Blascke, Saint Clare Adoring the Blessed Sacrament
Hungarian, c. 1800
Budapest, Piarista Museum

With a Book

The book is a reference to the Gospels, which Saints Francis and Clare took as their guide for life. 


Saint Clare of Assisi
Fragment from an Antiphonary  
Italian (Possibly Bologna), c. 1260-1275
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 880, fol. 1r
This image was painted just a few years after Clare's death and canonization.

Lippo Memmi, Saint Clare
Part of Altarpiece for the Church of San Francesco in San Gimimgnano
Italian, c. 1330
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Sainte Clare
French, c. 1400
Paris, Musée de Cluny, Musée national du Moyen Age

Saint Clare of Assisi
From Hours of Louis of Savoy
French (Savoy), c. 1445-1460
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9473, fol. 186v

Master of the Budapest Antiphonary, Saint Clare
Cutting from a Service Book
Italian (Lombardy), c. 1450-1450
London, British Library
MS Additional 71119

Francesco del Cossa, Saint Clare
Italian, c. 1470-1472
Madrid, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museo Nacional

Luca Signorelli, Saint Clare of Assissi
Italian, c. 1515-1520
Altenburg, Lindenau-Museum

Holding a Crucifix

Saint Clare also had a great devotion to the Passion of Christ and is sometimes shown holding a crucifix.


Vittore Crivelli, Saint Clare
Italian, 1491
Private Collection

School of Marco da Oggiano, Saint Clare
Italian, c. 1515-1519
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Holding a Palm Branch

This is a reference to the first “official” notice of Saint Clare, when the Bishop of Assisi gave her his own palm frond on the day before her dramatic flight from home.


Giotto, Saint Clare
Italian, c. 1325
Florence, Church of Santa Croce, Bardi Chapel

School of Lorenzo d'Alessandro, Saint Clare
Italian, 15th Century
Avignon, Musée du Petit Palais

Scenes from the Life of Saint Clare

Most of the images depicting scenes from the life of Saint Clare are based in events that really happened.  However, some of these scenes are interpreted in ways that make them seem more like legends.  This is not uncommon in the lives of saints prior to the era of the Counter-Reformation, which lay many years in the future at the time in which Saint Clare lived.  Her life was described by the contemporary Franciscan Friar Thomas of Celano, who was also the first biographer of Saint Francis.  Of course, at the period during which they all lived, the biography of a saint or holy person was more properly termed hagiography and tends to emphasize deeds that include miracles and visions, somethings not currently considered proper for a true biography.

Presentation of the Palm by the Bishop of Assisi

On Palm Sunday, at Mass in the cathedral, Clare remained in her place when all the other young ladies of Assisi flocked to the altar to collect palms (perhaps for a procession).  This is often ascribed to modesty and sometimes to prayerful distraction.  In any case, it drew the attention of the bishop of Assisi who descended from the altar and approached Clare, handing her his own palm.  This seems to have been regarded by Clare and her later interpreters as a sign that she had been chosen for a religious life.


The Bishop of Assisi Giving a Palm to Saint Clare
German, c. 1360
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters Collection

The Bishop of Assisi Presenting His Palm Branch to Saint Clare
Austrian, c. 1465-1475
Bamberg, Staatsgalerie

After Paolo Veronese, Saint Clare Receiving the Palm
Italian, c. 1550-1560
Hillsborough Castle, Royal Collection Trust

Cutting of Clare’s Hair and Giving of the Habit

On the night of Palm Sunday, following the incident in the cathedral, Clare left her parents’ home and, accompanied by her aunt, went to the chapel of the Portiuncula where Saint Francis and his brothers were waiting for her with candles and torches.  There Francis cut her hair, gave her a coarse brown habit and black veil.  These were symbolic of her renunciation of the world.  He then brought her to the convent of the Benedictine nuns, where she was to learn the details of life as a religious woman.


Saint Francis Cutting the Hair of Saint Clare
Cutting from a Choir Book
Italian, c. 1375
Princeton (NJ), Princeton University Art Museum

Attributed to Domenico Morone, Saint Francis Clothing Saint Clare in the Franciscan Habit
Cutting from a Choir Book
Italian (Verona), c. 1500
London, Victoria and Albert Museum

Saint Francis Cutting Saint Clare's Hair
Italian, 16th Century
London, Trustees of the British Museum

Fra Semplice Da Verona, Saint Francis Cutting the Hair of Saint Clare
Italian, First Half of 17th Century
Grenoble, Musée de Grenoble

Florentine School, Saint Francis Investing Saint Clare with the Franciscan Habit
Italian, First Half of 17th Century
Caen Musée des Beaux-Arts

Giovanni Domenico Cappellino, Saint Clare Welcomed at the Altar by Saint Francis after Taking Her Vows
Italian, First Half of 17th Century
Private Collection

Antonio Carnicero, Saint Francis Cutting Clare of Assisi's Hair
Spanish, c. 1787-1789
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Receiving the Rule

Saint Francis presented a brief Rule of Life to Clare and the young women who soon joined her, including her younger sister, now Saint Agnes of Assisi.


Fra Filippo Lippi, The Enthroned Saint Francis Gives Saint Clare the Rule of the Order
Italian, c. 1465-1470
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

The Death of Saint Francis

When I was a child there was a Hollywood interpretation of the life of Saint Francis, called Saint Francis of Assisi.  The movie starred Bradford Dillman as Francis and Dolores Hart as Clare.   The film, which is a fairly standard Hollywood biopic, without the weird and outright silly interpretations of some other films, is notable primarily because the leading lady, Dolores Hart, left Hollywood behind two years later and became a cloistered Benedictine nun at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Connecticut, where she has remained all these years.  The film depicts Francis and Clare as being about the same age.  In reality, Clare was several years younger. 

When in 1226 Saint Francis died at the Portiuncula on the outskirts of Assisi, his body was brought to Assisi in a funeral procession.  It made several stops along the way (for more on this please see my article on the Death of Saint Francis).  One of the stops was made at San Damiano so that Clare and her nuns would be able to venerate the body of their founder and model.  The scene has frequently been imagined by artists and was one of the most memorable scenes in the 1960 film.


Giotto, Legend of Saint Francis, Saint Clare and Her Sisters Mourning Saint Francis
Italian, 1300
Assisi, Church of San Francesco, Upper Church

Saint Clare Viewing the Body of Saint Francis
From Vie de Saint Francois
French (Northern), 14th-15th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 2093, fol. 84v

Leon Benouville, Saint Clare Receiving the Body of Saint Francis of Assisi
French, 1858
Chantilly, Musée Conde

Benito Mercade y Fabregas, Transitus of Saint Francis of Assisi
Spanish, 1866
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Ludovico Grillotti, Death of Saint Francis of Assisi
Italian, 1899
Subiaco, Church of San Francesco

Saint Clare, Defender of Assisi

One story from the life of Saint Clare, which sounds a little improbable to modern minds, seems to have a very solid basis in historical fact.  The 12th and 13th centuries were a terrible period in the Italian peninsula, leading to several more centuries of civil unrest and invasion.  During that time almost the whole of Italy was swept up in a series of bloody wars between the forces of the Holy Roman Emperor and the contemporary Popes.  The opposing forces adopted the names of Guelph (supporters of the Popes) and Ghibelline (supporters of the emperor).  Their conflict was the world in which the poet Dante grew up and was himself involved.  These experiences and the views they represent form the background for Dante’s great poem, The Divine Comedy.  

During one of these wars, Emperor Frederick II sent his troops into the region of Umbria (between Tuscany and Lazio) in an intended attack on Rome.  Their path took them through Assisi twice.  On the first occasion some of the troops (traditionally said to be Saracen mercenaries from Frederick's southern lands in Sicily) managed to breach the outer walls of the isolated convent of San Damiano, outside the city walls of Assisi.  Needless to say, the presence of soldiers, especially if they were non-Christian ones, inside the walls of a convent was terrifying for the nuns.  Saint Clare, who was in bed when the assault began, got up and went to the chapel of the convent where the Blessed Sacrament was reserved for adoration.  She took the receptacle in which the Eucharist was reserved.  Some accounts say that it was in a ciborium (closed vessel), while others call it a monstrance (vessel in which a reserved Host is visible).  Some pictures represent it as something in between, a closed but transparent vessel.  She carried this to a window within the inner cloister building and held it aloft.  According to the reports the sight of this terrified the attackers and they withdrew.

Guido da Siena, Saint Clare Driving Saracens Out of San Damiano
One of Four Scenes from a Panel
Italian, c. 1260
Siena, Pinacoteca Nazionale 
It is extremely interesting that this panel has been dated to around 1260, as Saint Clare died only a few years earlier, in 1253.

Peter Paul Rubens, Saint Clare Holding Up the Monstrance 
Engraving of Rubens design for a panel in the decorated ceiling of the Jesuit Church in Antwerp (destroyed by fire n 1718)
Flemish, c. 1620-1621
Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten

Isidoro Arredondo, Saint Clare Driving Away the Infidels with the Eucharist
Spanish, 1693
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Saint Clare Defending Her Convent
Italian, 18th Century
Paray-le-Monial, Musée Eucharistique du Hieron

Ludovico Grillotti, Saint Clare Expels the Saracens from the Convent of San Damiano by Raising the Monstrance
Italian, 1899
Subiaco, Church of San Francesco, Cloister

About one year later the Imperial forces were once more attempting to attack Rome and this time laid siege to the walled town of Assisi but did not disturb the nuns at San Damiano.  On this occasion, Saint Clare called all her nuns to the chapel and together they prayed  on their knees for the delivery of the town in front of the exposed Blessed Sacrament.  Their prayers were heard and the siege was lifted, the town was spared.  The people of Assisi considered Clare to be their protector through her prayers. 

Cavaliere d'Arpino, Saint Clare at the Siege of Assisi
Italian, First Half of the 17th Century
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum

Hieronymous Wierix, Saint Clare Praying Before the Eucharist
Flemish, 1619
London, Trustees of the British Museum

Saint Clare and Her Nuns Praying for the Deliverance of Assisi 
French, c. 1630-1640
Paris, Musée du Louvre
The group of nuns includes her blood sister, Saint Agnes of Assisi.

Death of Saint Clare

This is the event of her life in which the historical and the supernatural mix most profoundly.  Following her defense of the town of Assisi in 1241 and 1242 Saint Clare continued to live her life of piety and radical poverty.  Though plagued by ill health she continued to lead her sisters, which now included not only her sister Agnes, but her mother Ortolana and other family members.  She fought tenaciously against two Popes and their representatives to maintain the adherence of her Rule to the ideals of total poverty espoused by Saint Francis and given to her during the dramatic early days of her flight from the world.  The number of her sisters grew and convents of Poor Ladies, becoming known as Poor Clares, were being established throughout Italy and into the rest of Europe. 

In 1253 it became obvious that Clare was dying.  During her last days she was visited by some of the remaining original brothers of Saint Francis, by Cardinals and by the Pope himself.  In addition, there is a legend that on her last day she was also visited by a heavenly party, composed of female saints, and led by the Blessed Virgin Mary herself.  The supernatural party was described as a group of women, dressed in white and with golden crowns on their heads, who appeared in the room in which she lay.  Their leader, the Virgin herself, approached the dying woman along with two others who held in their hands a beautiful cloak.  The Blessed Virgin wrapped Clare in the cloak and then they disappeared.  Clare died later that day.

Master of Heiligenkreuz, Death of Saint Clare
Austrian, 1410
Washington, National Gallery of Art

Attributed to Luca Giordano, Death of Saint Clare
Italian, Second Half of 17th Century
Clamecy, Musée d'Art et d'Histoire Romain Rolland

Bartolome Esteban Murillo, Death of Saint Clare
Spanish, c. 1650-1682
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum

Giacomo Giogetti, The Virgin Mary at the Deathbed of Saint Clare
Italian, 1657
Assisi, Pinacoteca Comunale

Attributed to Antonio Nasini, Death of Saint Clare
Italian, c. 1700
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des Arts Graphiques

Her funeral was splendid.  The Pope, who had visited her shortly before, came back to Assisi to celebrate the funeral.  A long and splendid procession brought her body from San Damiano to a grave at her childhood church of San Giorgio, where Saint Francis had also been buried at this death. 

Within two years the Pope was back in Assisi to preside over her canonization and reburial in the new church named for her, Santa Chiara, where her body remains to this day.


Clare as a Saint Among Saints

So far, we have looked at Saint Clare’s imagery as a solitary saint and as the subject of paintings about her life.  However, there are other images of Saint Clare that have developed over time.  These are images of Clare in company with others.  This type of image can be called a 

Sacra Conversazione (Holy Conversation)

Niccolo di Liberatore (called l'Alunno), Madonna and Child with Saints Francis, John the Baptist, Jerome and Clare
Italian, c. 1465-1470
Rome, Palazzo Barberini

Alvise Vivarini, Madonna and Child with Saints Catherine of Alexandria, Clare and John the Baptist
Italian, c. 1465_
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Domenico Ghirlandaio, Enthroned Madonna and Child with Saints Clare, Paul, Francis and Catherine of Alexandria
Italian, c. 1480-1500
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Baldassare Manara, Dish with Saints Peter, Clare and Barbara (?)
Italian, c. 1535
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum

However, not all images of Clare with others fall into this distinctive category.  There are other ways in which Clare appears with others.

 Clare as a Franciscan Saint

These images place Saint Clare in the context of a series of Franciscan Saints, both from her own time and later periods.


Simone Martini, Saints Clare and Elizabeth of Hungary
Italian, c. 1320-1325
Assisi, Church of San Francesco, Lower Church, Chapel of Saint Martin

Giovanni di Paolo, Saints Clare and Elizabeth of Hungary
Italian, c. 1445
Private Collection

Probably by the Ghent Gradual Master, Saints Francis, Clare and Bernardino of Siena
From a Prayer Book
Flemish (Ghent or Tournai), c. 1450
London, British Library
MS Stowe 23, fol. 62r

Master of the Glorification of Mary, Saints Clare, Bernardino, Bonaventure and Francis
German, c. 1480
Cologne, Walraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud

Garofalo, Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints William of Aquitaine, Clare, Anthony of Padua and Francis
Italian, 1517
London, National Gallery

Moretto da Brescia, Madonna and Child with Saints Catherine of Alexandria, Clare, Jerome, Joseph, Bernardino, Francis and Nicholas of Bari
Italian, c. 1540-1545
London, National Gallery

Philips Galle after Pieter van der Borcht, Six Franciscan Saints (Saints Bernardino, Bonaventure, Francis, Anthony of Padua, Louis of Toulouse and Clare)
The Famous Followers of the Seraphic Counsels
Flemish, c. 1587
London, Trustees of the British Museum

Giuseppe Di  Gardo, Madonna in Glory with Saints Bonaventure, Bernardino of Siena and Clare of Assisi
Italian, c. 1768-1800
Castelbuono, Church of Saint Francis

Anna Jameson, Six Franciscan Saints: Bonaventure, Anthony of Padua, Catherine of Alexandria, Clare, Bernardino and Louis of Toulouse
Anglo-Irish, 19th Century
London, Wellcome Collection

Clare and Francis as a Saintly Pair

Saints Clare and Francis are often depicted together, either just the two of them or in a group of other saints.  As founders of their respective potions of the Franciscan family they appear as a kind of saintly couple.


Giotto, Saint Francis and Saint Clare
Italian, c. 1278-1300
Assisi, Church of San Francesco, Upper Church

Attributed to Ugolino da Siena, Crucifixion with Saints Clare and Francis of Assisi_\
Italian, c. 1315-1320
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Pietro Lorenzetti, Crucifixion with Saints Clare and Francis
Italian, c. 1320
Cambridge (MA), Harvard Art Museums-Fogg Museum

Masters of Hug Janzoon van Woerden, Crucifixion with Saints Francis and Clare
From a Book of Hours
Dutch (Northern Holland), c. 1450-1475
Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 129 F 4, fol.48v-49r

Israhel van Meckenem, Saints Francis and Clare
Hand-colored Engraving from a Prayer Book
German, c. 1480-1490
London, Trustees of the British Museum

Pompeo Cocchi, Madonna and Child with Saints Francis, Clare, Louis of Toulouse and Proculus
Italian, c. 1490-1552
Terni, Pinacoteca Comunale di Terni

Madonna and Child with Saints Francis,Catherine of Siena and Clare
Italian, 16th Century
London, Royal Collection Trust

Lorenzo Lotto, Madonna and Child with Saints Paul, Peter, Clare and Francis
Italian, c. 1506
Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland

Giovanni Battista Cima da Congegliano, Madonna and Child with Saints Francis and Clare
Italian, c. 1510
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Circle of the Carracci, Virgin and Child with Saints Clare and Francis
Italian, c. 1580-1590
Chicago, Art Institute

Durante Alberti, Enthroned Madonn and Child with Saints Jerome, Francis and Clare
Italian, c. 1599
Assisi, Pinacoteca Comunale

Hieronymus Wierix, Christ and the Virgin Adored by Saints Francis and Clare
Flemish, Before 1619
London, Trustees of the British Museum

Ivory Plaque of Saints Clare and Francis
South Asian, 17th Century
London, Trustees of the British Museum

Ludovico Carracci, Madonna and Child with Saints Francis and Clare
Italian, c. 1600-1619
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Antonio Cicignani, Immaculate Conception with Saints Anthony, Francis, Clare and Mary Magdalene
Italian, c. 1601-1615
Assisi, Pinacoteca Comunale

Andrea Boscoli, Assumption of the Virgin with Saints Francis and Clare
Italian, c. 1605
London, Trustees of the British Museum

Pieter de Jode II after Gerard Segers, Infant Christ Adored by Saints Francis and Clare
Flemish, c. 1640-1674
London, Trustees of the British Museum

Giovanni Battista Gaulli, The Immaculate Conception with Saints Francis and Clare
Italian, c. 1680-1686
London, Royal Collection Trust

Attributed to Giovanni Antonio Burrini, Saints Francis of Paula, Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Alexandria and Clare of Assisi
Italian, c. 1700
London, Royal Collection Trust

Maurice Denis, Saint Francis Visiting Saint Clare and Her Sisters
Illustration for the Fioretti, the Little Flowers of Saint Francis
French, 1911
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des Arts graphiques

The Vision of Saint Clare

After her death Clare is sometimes shown in what can be called the Vision of Saint Clare, in which she is seen as a visitor to the home of the Holy Family, in adoration of the Christ Child or as the recipient of his attention. 


Federico Zuccaro, The Holy Family with Saints Catherine of Alexandria and Clare of Assisi
Italian, c. 1580-1609
London, Trustees of the British Museum

Guido Reni, The Holy Family with Saint Clare
Italian, c. 1590-1600
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Guercino, Vision of Saint Clare
Italian, c. 1615-1621
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum

Gerard Seghers, Saint Clare Adoring the Child Jesus
Flemish, c. 1630-1650
Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten

Jean Louis Roullet after Annibale Carracci, Virgin and Child with Saint Clare
French, Late 17th Century
Philadelphia, Museum of Art

Among a Group of Other Saints

One of the greatest representations of Saint Clare can be found in the design for a tapestry prepared by Peter Paul Rubens for his patroness, the Princess Isabella Clara Eugenia, Infanta of Spain, and Archduchess of Brabant.  Princess Isabella Clara Eugenia was the daughter of King Philip II of Spain and the wife of Archduke Albert of Austria, Duke of Brabant.  With her husband, and later as a widow, she governed the Netherlands (comprising today’s Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg) on behalf of her father (and later her half-brother, Philip III).  Saint Clare was her patron saint and, in her widowhood, the Princess became a lay member of the Poor Clares. 

Saint Clare had a great devotion to the Holy Eucharist, as is evident in the story of her defense of her convent and in the iconography in which she is shown holding a monstrance or ciborium.  Her spiritual daughters had maintained this devotion through the centuries following her death.  In this tapestry series, known as the Triumph of the Eucharist, she is shown particular honor.  The series is comprised of twenty designs and was commissioned by the Archduchess in 1628 as a gift to the convent of Unshod Poor Clares in Madrid, known as the Descalzes Reales.  The designs were woven in Flanders between 1628 and 1633, when they began arriving at their final home.  

Peter Paul Rubens, The Defenders of the Eucharist : Saints Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory Great, Clare, Thomas Aquinas, Norbert and Jerome
From the Triumph of the Eucharist series of paintings
Flemish, 1625
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

The series is conceived as if composed of tableaux outlining the history of the Eucharist in the Old and New Testament and in church history.  One of the most important tapestries of the series is the one known as the Defenders of the Eucharist.  This is comprised of a procession of saints who had a particular devotion to the Eucharist or who contributed to the Church’s understanding of it.  This panel includes Popes and theologians who wrote about the Eucharist.  These include such great men as Saint Ambrose, Saint Augustine, Saint Gregory the Great, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Norbert and Saint Jerome.  And in the very center of the composition is one woman, Saint Clare of Assisi, holding aloft a monstrance with the Host.  It is she and Saint Thomas Aquinas, who wrote the liturgical prayers for the feast of Corpus Christi, who are most active and who dominate the composition as well as form its center.  The other saints seem to look to them for guidance.2 


Not every composition in which Saint Clare appears with other saints is of such great importance, however.  In most cases she appears either as a member of a group of  

Other female saints

Neri di Bicci, Saints Agnes of Rome and Clare of Assisi
Italian, Mid-1470s
Philadelphia, Museum of Art

Alvise Vivarini, Saint Clare and a Female Martyr Saint
Italian, c. 1485
Venice, Galleria dell'Accademia

Saints Clare and Susanna
Flemish, 1668
London, Victoria and Albert Museum

Random Groups of Saints

Or in what appears to be a random group of saints, probably determined by the patron of the work of art

Simone Martini, Christ Delivering the Keys to Saint Peter, Saints Christopher, Mary Magdalen, Clare and Elizabth of Hungary
Italian, c. 1325
London, Victoria and Albert Museum

Lippo Memmi, Madonna and Child with Saints and Angels
Italian, c. 1350
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Saint Clare appears in the predella, second from the left.

Filippino Lippi, Man of Sorrows with Saints Anthony of Padua, Louis of Toulouse, Francis, Dominic, Clare and Catherine of Siena
Italian, c. 1495
Munich, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Alte Pinakothek

Altarpiece Adoration of the Magi with Saints Adrian and Clare
Flemish, c. 1515-1520
Antwerp, Snijders-Rockox Huis Museum

Glass Roundel with Saints Jodocus and Clare of Assisi
Flemish, c. 1520-1530
New  York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters Collection

Saint Clare in the Court of Heaven 

Or as a member of the Court of Heaven, joining a group of other saints in adoration of God of of the Virgin and Child in a heavenly setting.


Giuliano da Rimini, Madonna and Child Enthroned and Surrounded by Supplicants with Saints Francis, John the Baptist, John the Evangelist, Mary Magdalene, Clare, Catherine of Alexandria, Agnes and Lucy
Italian, c. 1307
Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Giovanni da Milano, Christ and the Virgin Enthroned with Six Saints
Italian, c. 1348-1355
London, National Gallery

Caterino Veneziano, Madonna and Child with the Crucifixion and Saints
Italian, c. 1380-1389
Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum

Giovanni del Biondo, The Virgin of the Apocalypse with Saints Stephen, Anthony Abbott, Lawrence, Francis, Clare, Unidentified FemaleSaint and Saint Catherine of Alexandris
Italian, c. 1391
Vatican, Pinacoteca

Coronation of the Virgin
Spanish, c. After 1521
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Moretto da Bressia (Alessandro Bonvicino), Assumption of the Virgin with Saints Mark and Jerome, Catherine of Alexandria and Clare
Italian, c. 1529
Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera

Peter Paul Rubens, The Holy Family surrounded by Saints
Flemish, c. 1630
Madrid, Museo National del Prado


In addition, Saint Clare appears as a patron saint to those still struggling to get to heaven.  Thus, she appears standing behind individuals or groups as she presents them for divine approval. 


Hans Memling, Outer Wings of the Saint John Altarpiece with Saints James the Greater, Anthony Abbott, Agnes of Rome and  Clare of Assisi
Flemish, c. 1474-1479
Bruges, Memlingmuseum, Sint-Janshospitaal

Joos van Cleve, Lamentation Altarpiece, with Donors and Saints Nicholas of Tolentine and Clare of Assisi
Flemish, c. 1520-1525
Paris, Musée du Louvre

This then, is the iconography of Saint Clare, one of the most important women of the Middle Ages, whose daughters are still at work in the world today, often in surprising ways.  One of them, Mother Angelica, was the plucky founder of Eternal Word television (EWTN) which has become a leading force in evangelization in the US and around the world.  Whatever your opinion of the network may be you will grant that it was undertaken very much in the spirit of Saint Clare, who resisted the efforts of Popes and other outsiders to follow the Rule of Saint Francis. 


© M. Duffy, 2022


1. For sources and commentary on the life of Saint Clare see the following:

The Golden Legend or Lives of the Saints. Compiled by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, 1275.  First Edition Published 1470. Englished by William Caxton, First Edition 1483, Edited by F.S. Ellis, Temple Classics, 1900 (Reprinted 1922, 1931.)  © The Internet Medieval Sourcebook is part of the Internet History Sourcebooks Project,

The Life of Saint Clare ascribed to Thomas of Celano of the Order of Friars Minor (AD 1255-1261) translated and edited from the earliest MSS by Fr. Paschal Robinson of the same Order: with an Appendix containing the Rule of Saint Clare, The Dolphin Press, Philadelphia, 1910.

Robinson, Paschal. "St. Clare of Assisi." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908.

Much more up to date sources for documents and commentary can be found at Feminae:  Medieval Women and Gender Index (  Search for Clare of Assisi, Saint.  There are 45 books and articles that are linked from the search results page, many of them focusing on the battles between Clare and church officials about the inclusion of radical poverty in the Rule. 

 2. For Rubens designs for the Defenders of the Eucharist tapestry see the website of the Prado Museum,Around%201622%2D25%2C%20Peter%20Paul%20Rubens%20was%20commissioned%20by%20the,the%20Descalzas%20Reales%20in%20Madrid.  This also includes a separate bibliography for the work.

In addition for the specific connection between this work and its patroness, Princess Isabella Clara Eugenia, see Libby, Alexandra.  The Solomonic Ambitions of Isabel Clara Eugenia in Rubens’s The Triumph of the Eucharist Tapestry Series” in Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art, Vol. 7, Issue 2, Summer 2015.

I hope shortly to publish another post on the relationship between these two very different women, based on a document which I uncovered while writing this one.