Images of Franciscan Missionaries in Italian Art and Sermons

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This paper examines the representations of missionaries in the Franciscan Italian context. It first examines the central myth of St. Francis’s activity as a missionary in Egypt; then, it alludes to St. Clare and the Clarissan experience, continues on to discuss the early missionaries in Morocco, and concludes with brief references to visual images depicting Franciscan missionary activities in the New World. The concept of mission was central to the Franciscan legacy as expressed by the examples of St. Francis, St. Clare, and the early Franciscan missionaries to Morocco. It was tightly connected with the conversion of the infidels and/or the martyrdom of the Franciscan friars. Although St. Francis’s encounter with the Sultan supposedly ended with a triumphant conversion of the Muslim ruler, it was a failed attempt at martyrdom. St. Clare’s experience symbolizes an unfulfilled dream to gain martyrdom which her Clarissan followers in Acre achieved. The early Franciscan missionaries in Morocco were praised not for their ability to convert the infidels, but for their heroic death. In art, they are depicted in the dramatic moment of their beheading rather when preaching. Although St. Francis’s Trial by Fire before the Sultan was central to the Franciscan medieval and Renaissance visual traditions, the scenes of St. Clare and the Saracens or the martyrdom of the early Franciscan missionaries in Morocco hardly appear in Italian medieval art; indeed, only a few examples indicate that the missionary ethos was not central. This situation changed significantly in the sixteenth century with the wide circulation of the St. Clare Saracens episode or the depictions of the early Franciscan martyrs in Morocco. Furthermore, in the Age of Exploration, there were new representations of contemporaneous missionaries active in the Far East and in the New World and a renewed glorification of the missionary efforts of the Franciscan Order.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPreaching and New Worlds: Sermons as Mirrors of Realms Near and Far
EditorsTimothy J. Johnson, Katherine Wrisley Shelby, John D. Young
Place of PublicationNew York
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781315159119
ISBN (Print)9781138066502
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


Dive into the research topics of 'Images of Franciscan Missionaries in Italian Art and Sermons'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this