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Three Standing Female Saints: Clare, the Virgin Mary, and Barbara

Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion

Three Standing Female Saints: Clare, the Virgin Mary, and Barbara

Culture Group: German
Culture: German
Date: 1470–1480
Medium: Oil, tempera, and gold leaf on panel
Dimensions:
46 x 39 1/4 inches (116.8 x 99.7 cm)
Classification: Painting
Credit Line: Gift in honor of Marilyn M. Segal by her children
Label Text:This painting probably formed part of a church altarpiece and depicts three virgin saints, whose virtue and faith would have been admired by churchgoers. The identification of the figure on the left as St. Clare of Assisi is based on her clothing and the ostensorium, a display vessel in which she carries the Eucharistic Host, the wafer of bread that is viewed as Christ's body during the sacrament of Holy Communion. St. Clare was received into the Order of St. Francis and here wears Franciscan robes. She is legendary for having once saved her order from an attack by infidels. When Saracens besieged Clare's convent, she arose from her bed and placed the ostensorium with its Host on the threshold, where she knelt and began to pray. Seeing the Host, the infidels threw down their arms and fled. The identity of the middle figure in this painting is not confirmed but may depict a local saint associated with the altarpiece's original church community, or St. Dorothy, another virgin saint usually portrayed with a basket (here a garland) of white and red roses. She was martyred for her faith in 303 CE. The figure on the right is recognizable as St. Barbara, seen with her tower. During her childhood, Barbara's father locked her in a turret, where philosophers, orators and poets were employed to instruct her. During her tutoring, she converted to Christianity, an offense for which she was tortured and murdered by her father. Upon Barbara's death, her father was immediately struck by lightning and killed.

Provenance: Paul Metsu, Belgium. The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Richard D. Segal; gift 1998 to Duke University Museum of Art, now Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.
Object number: 1998.22.11