Key to Umbria: Assisi

Maestro di Santa Chiara (late 13th century)

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Maestro di Santa Chiara in:  Assisi

This master is named for the so-called Santa Chiara Dossal (see below) in Santa Chiara, Assisi.  The other works most securely attributed to him are also in Assisi (see below). 

The Maestro di Gualdo Tadino is sometimes assumed to be the same person as the Maestro di Santa Chiara.  He is known for two works:

  1. his autograph work from San Francesco, Gualdo Tadino, [which is now in the Pinacoteca there]; and

  2. a crucifix now in the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Santa Chiara Dossal (ca. 1283)

This historiated icon in Santa Chiara is the autograph work of the Maestro di Santa Chiara.  It is now on the right wall of the left transept, but it probably stood originally on the pergola around the high altar.  The inscription at the base records that it was painted during the pontificate of Pope Martin IV (1281-5).  (Historiated icons of St Francis from 1236 onwards (of which ten survive) provided the model for the work).

The scenes from the life of St Clare should be read clockwise from the bottom left:

  1. St Clare receives a palm from Bishop Guido in San Rufino on Palm Sunday of 1211 (or perhaps 1212) before leaving home to embark on her religious life;

  2. St Francis receives St Clare at the Portiuncula;

  3. St Clare adopts a religious habit and St Francis cuts her hair;

  4. St Clare resists her family at San Paolo delle Abbadesse;

  5. St Agnes (the sister of St Clare) resists her family at Sant Angelo in Panzo and (above) St Francis cuts her hair;

  6. St Clare multiplies the bread for her sisters at San Damiano;

  7. the death of St Clare, and her vision of the virgin saints; and

  8. the funeral of St Clare.

Crucifix (ca. 1260)

This painted crucifix, which still hangs above the high altar of Santa Chiara, was probably the first painting that was commissioned for the new church.  The inscription records that Donna Benedetta, the first Abbess of Santa Chiara, commissioned it.  This must have been either shortly before her death in 1260 or else using money that she left in her will.  It is attributed to the Maestro di Santa Chiara.

The iconography of Christus Patiens (the dying Christ on the Cross) was widely used in early Franciscan churches.  In this example, the Virgin and St John the Evangelist flank the Cross, with another figure of the Virgin (praying and flanked by angels) and Christ Pantocrater above.  Donna Benedetta is represented with SS Francis and Clare at the foot of the Cross.  (Brother Elias had commissioned a similar crucifix (1235) from Giunta Pisano for San Francesco, in which he was depicted at the foot of the Cross.) 

Maestà (ca. 1265)

This icon on the left wall of the right transept of Santa Chiara is attributed to the Maestro di Santa Chiara.  It depicts the Madonna and Child enthroned in front of a cloth of honour held by two angels.  The Madonna is depicted using the Byzantine iconography of “Hodegetria” (she who shows the way, so-called because she points to the baby Jesus as the way to salvation).  

The panel seems to have been painted for a Marian in this transept that Cardinal Enrico Bartolomei di Susa consecrated in 1265.  The panel was probably in place at this time.

Frescoes (late 13th century)

These frescoes, which are attributed to the Maestro di Santa Chiara, were painted on the walls of the left apsidal chapel of San Rufino soon after its construction.  The chapel was walled up as part of the restructuring of San Rufino in the 16th century, and the frescoes were then forgotten until 1894, when work began on the construction of the Cappella della Madonna del Pianto.  They were detached from the walls at that time and are now in the Museo Diocesano.  They were detached from the walls at that time.


The recognisable scenes (from left to right in the illustrations above) depict:

  1. a figure of the Virgin to the right of a fragment from a Crucifixion, and a scene of the Visitation to the right of it;

  2. a scene of the Nativity and the adoration of the shepherds;

  3. the grieving face of the Madonna; and

  4. a right hand raised in blessing. 

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