Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Panel with four scenes including St Clare Driving Saracens out of San Damiano
  • Creator: Guido da Siena, painter
  • Description:

    One of the miracles attributed to Clare of Assisi is repelling an attack by Saracen soldiers on her monastery at San Damiano, outside the walls of Assisi. The Emperor Frederick II was at odds with the city for its siding with the pope against him. His army, composed of Muslim mercenaries and Christian troops, approached the city. San Damiano, lying outside the walls, was a first target. Clare, although ill, is reported to have beseeched Christ for aid, kneeling before the reserved Eucharist. According to the Franciscan hagiographer Thomas of Celano, Christ answered her in a child’s voice. Clare then confronted the Saracen mercenaries with the consecrated host contained in a “silver casket enclosed in ivory.” The troops were frightened and climbed back over the walls they had scaled. Clare, in this context, becomes a protector of the city, as well as of the Poor Clares. This story became popular in Christian art, with Clare often depicted as holding not the casket but a golden ciborium or, more often, a monstrance, the vessel used to display the consecrated host to the faithful on solemn occasions like the feast of Corpus Christi.

    An early depiction of this miracle was painted by Guido da Siena in 1260. It is one of four paintings on the doors of a reliquary box. The probable location of this box was the Sienese house of the Clares, Saint Petronilla. It too was outside the city walls, allowing the nuns to identify with Clare and her sisters, threatened by hostile forces. The other images are the martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew, Saint Catherine of Alexandria being tortured and Saint Francis receiving the stigmata, the marks of the wounds of Christ. Although Clare was not martyred, in this attack on the monastery she risked sharing in the passion of Bartholomew and the sufferings of Catherine. The painting shows Clare, holding a golden ciborium, a chalice with a lid, and her sisters at the door of the convent. The attackers are shown falling from the walls, their picks, intended to breech the enclosure, dropped from their hands. Below, outside the outer wall of San Damiano, soldiers and bearded men in robes and head cloths, probably intended to be Muslims, huddle together in fear.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Clare of Assisi, Saint Eucharist, Sacrament Miracles Monasticism Muslims Poor Clares Order Warfare and Warriors
  • Geographic Area: Italy
  • Century: 13
  • Date: ca. 1260
  • Related Work: Guido da Siena, Closeup of the scene of Saint Clare driving out Saracens on the reliquary;
    Guido da Siena,
    Saint Peter Enthroned with the Annunciation, Nativity, and Scenes from Peter’s Life, circa 1280. Siena, Pinacoteca Nazionale;
    Guido da Siena, Saint Francis with scenes from his life, after 1270. Siena, Pinacoteca Nazionale;
    Representations of miracles attributed to Saint Clare:
    Giovanni di Paolo, Clare intervenes to save a child, 1455-1460. Houston, Museum of Fine Arts;
    Giovanni di Paolo, The Miracle of the Bread by St Clare, 1460. New Haven, Yale University Library.
  • Current Location: Siena, Pinacoteca Nazionale, no. 4
  • Original Location: Siena, Monastery of Saint Petronilla, a house of Poor Clares (?)
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Paintings
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Panel paintings; Oil
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 121.5/71/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Debby, Nirit Ben-Aryeh. The Cult of St Clare of Assisi in Early Modern Italy. Ashgate, 2014;
    Norman, Diana. Painting in Late Medieval and Renaissance Siena (1260-11555). Yale University Press, 2007. Pages 41-69;
    Stace, Christopher, St Clare of Assisi: Her Legend and Selected Writings. Triangle, 2001. [Contains an English translation of Thomas of Celano’s life of Clare.]