Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Panel Painting of Saint Clare of Assisi with Scenes from her Life
  • Creator:
  • Description: This monumental panel painting of Saint Clare of Assisi (1194-1253), also known as a dossal or altar screen, shows the saint standing at over life size and surrounded by individual scenes from her life. Beginning at the bottom left of the dossal and moving clockwise, the scenes include Clare receiving a palm from Bishop Guido of Assisi, Clare and her companions eloping to the chapel of Porziuncola to meet Saint Francis, Saint Francis cutting Clare’s hair and dressing her in her habit, Clare’s relatives attempting to retrieve her from the convent of Sant’Angelo di Panzo, Clare’s sister Agnes joining the convent and is beaten by her relatives, Clare miraculously multiplying bread, Clare having a vision of the Virgin Mary and holy virgin saints on her deathbed, and finally the death of Saint Clare. Clare herself faces the viewer frontally within an architectural frame composed of pointed arches and columns with acanthus leaf capitals. Two flying angels assist Clare by holding her halo.

    Clare of Assisi was born to a wealthy Umbrian family and her mother, Ortolana, was particularly devout. Clare put off marriage until she turned 18, at which point she became familiar with the teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi and left her family to follow him. Despite her family’s protests and attempts at forcibly removing her, Clare stayed on and eventually founded her own austere religious order, the “Poor Clares,” in tandem with Saint Francis and her sister Agnes. Jeryldene Wood has pointed out that the dossal of Saint Clare, together with earlier dossals depicting Saint Francis, corresponds visually to the structure of the saint’s contemporary hagiography by Thomas of Celano (Wood, 1991). While the dossal does not illustrate scenes from the hagiography, its visual correspondences to textual renderings of Clare’s sanctity worked to reinforce papal-sanctioned characteristics of female sainthood.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Subject (See Also): Clare of Assisi, Saint Hagiography Monasticism Poor Clares Order Women in Religion
  • Geographic Area: Italy
  • Century: 13
  • Date: ca. 1280
  • Related Work: Contemporary dossal of Saint Francis of Assisi, by an anonymous master now in the Cappella Bardi, Santa Croce, Florence: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b4/Master_of_the_bardi_saint_francis_.
  • Current Location: Assisi, Monastery of Santa Chiara
  • Original Location: Italy, Central. Assisi
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Paintings
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Wood; Paint (Egg Tempera)
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 273/165/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Rigaux, Dominique. "Women, Faith, and Image in the Middle Ages," in Women and Faith: Catholic Religious Life in Italy from Late Antiquity to the Present. Ed. Lucetta Scaraffia and Gabriella Zarri. Harvard University Press, 1999. pp. 72-82;
    Wood, Jeryldene. "Perceptions of Holiness in Thirteenth-Century Italian Painting: Claire of Assisi." Art History 14:3 (1991), pp. 301-22;