By Adriana Baranello and Maggie Bell
Saint Clare of Assisi (b. 16 July 1194 in Assisi) died on 12 August 1253 and was canonized in 1255. She was the eldest child of Favorino Schiffi, Count of Sasso-Rosso. Though born into a life of luxury, Clare devoted herself to religious study very early, and took her vows at age 18. Her vows were taken in front of Saint Francis on 20 May 1212, Palm Sunday. Saint Clare was one of Saint Francis’s earliest followers, and founder of the Franciscan Order’s sister Order, the Order of Poor Ladies more commonly called the Poor Clares, while abbess of the monastery of San Damiano. St Clare authored the Rule of Life for the order; it is the first monastic rule known to be written by a woman.
The Poor Clares themselves did not have much control over the images commissioned to decorate their churches, since these were paid for most often by families and confraternities. However, these images often depicted narrative scenes from the life of Clare of Assisi, like the predella painting by Giovanni di Paolo, which represents Clare blessing the bread for the Eucharist. After her blessing, the cross was imprinted so intensely on the bread that it broke into four quarters. Jacopo da Voragine’s Golden Legend was a major source of iconography for Clare, who was typically shown wearing the costume of the order: dark grey or grey–brown habit and veil with white lining, tied with a knotted cord as a girdle. She is often shown holding a monstrance, referring to a story in the Legend in which Clare wards off Saracen soldiers prepared to attack Assisi.
Brenda M. Bolton. “Poor Clares, Order of.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed August 7, 2017, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T068687.
Detail of Simone Martini’s frescoes (1312-1320) in the Lower Basilica in the the Papal Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi (the Church of San Francesco), Assisi featuring St Clare with Saints Elizabeth of Hungary and Louis of France
The Madonna and Child, with Saints William of Aquitaine, Clare, Anthony of Padua and Francis, Garofalo (Benvenuto Tisi), c. 1517-1518, oil on wood, National Gallery London
Giovanni di Paolo, Saint Clare of Assisi Blessing the Bread before Pope Innocent IV, predella panel, ca. 1455, Yale University Art Gallery, Early European Art
Saint Clare of Assisi, kneeling and holding a monstrance, attributed to Giacomo Cavedone (1577-1660), drawing, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, United Kingdom