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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 most likely formed part of a church altarpiece and depicts three virgin saints whose virtue and faith would have been admired by churchgoers. Alive in different centuries, the saints would have been selected for their symbolic relationship to the church, patron, or town. On the left, St. Clare of Assisi (1194-1253) holds an ostensorium, a vessel carrying the Eucharistic Host, or the wafer of bread considered to be Christ’s body and consumed during the sacrament of Holy Communion. St. Clare was in the religious Order of St. Francis and here wears Franciscan robes. In the middle stands the Virgin of the Wheat, a Marian type popular in Alpine regions during the late 1400s. Her green dress speckled with yellow wheat refers to her fertility and role as nourisher of humankind. The red and white flower wreath, echoing the saints’ haloes and miraculously tacked to the heavenly golden background, is thought to refer to Mary’s virginity and mercy. The figure on the right is St. Barbara (3rd century) standing next to a tower. During her childhood, Barbara’s father locked her in a turet 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.
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