Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Artist of the Month: Joan of Arc

-By William O'Connor

Frank Craig "Joan of Arc in Battle" 1907

With the recent attacks in France I have been ruminating on French patriotism.

French culture has a long and storied art history stretching from the medieval Holy Roman Empire, Gothic and Rennaisance Periods, majestic Kings Louis, The Enlightenment, Napoleonic Empire, and two World Wars. All cultures have heroes, creation stories that personify the ideals of their society, heroes that help focus the national narrative. England has Robin Hood, Scotland has William Wallace, Switzerland has William Tell. Even the youthful United States has Davey Crocket. France has Joan of Arc.

Joan of Arc is the Catholic Patron Saint of France, but this was not always true. During the Hundred Years War in the 15th century, northern France was occupied by England. Continuous war had weakened France and English forces had occupied Paris and were advancing on Orleans. A young nineteen year old shepherdess named Joan receives a vision from St. Michael, St. Margaret and St. Catherine. Joan becomes a standard bearer of King Charles, rallying the French troops with her message. Wielding her inspiration and leadership Joan leads the French to victory at Orleans in 1429. Once King Charles secures his place on the throne of France, and concerned over the popular grass-roots support for Joan, he allows her to be captured by the English. Tried for heresy and sorcery by the Church, Joan is burned at the stake, but does not renounce her faith.

This may have been the end of Joan’s story, but like all great folk heroes and martyrs, she lived on in the hearts of the French people. Even though denounced as a heretic, her trial is re-examined years later and she is found not-guilty. Although considered a martyr, she is not canonized as a saint. This long gestation of Joan’s story makes for very interesting art history. Since she was not a saint, there is very little early artwork of Joan. No alter pieces, icons or statuary. No Gothic cathedrals or shrines in her name. Only a few paintings and mentions in historical literature, including the detailed transcript of her trial, she mostly remained a folk legend and historical footnote. What brought Joan to prominence was The Romantic Movement. Until the nineteenth century subject matter for artwork was limited to Classical Mythology and the Bible. The Romantics began to explore new stories and local mythologies, helping give rise to Nationalism and National Heroes, hence Beowulf, Siegfried, Boudica, Vercingetorix, William Tell, Robin Hood, King Arthur, et al, came out of the shadows of the past and their stories were published and painted. Joan of Arc became a national hero of the people of France, being regarded as a symbol of French Nationalism by Napoleon and later by the Second Empire during the Franco-Prussian War.

By the end of the nineteenth century Joan of Arc became one of the most popular historical characters. Hundreds of books, paintings, sculptures and even operas and plays were created about this heroic character. She was the Katniss Everdeen of the Victorian period. By the turn of the twentieth century the image and story of Joan of Arc was being used by many different causes but especially the Women’s Suffrage movement. During WWI she became an icon of Freedom. Women’s rights during the Great War were profoundly advanced and women gained the vote in Canada, Britain, and America in 1917, 1918, and 1919 respectively. Shortly after she was finally recognized by the Church in 1920, becoming St. Joan of Arc, Patron Saint of France, Maid of Heaven. Joan was considered a national icon during WWII and has been the name sake of a French aircraft carrier.

In the past weeks I have been thinking of the people of France, and my thoughts and prayers have drifted to St. Joan. She stood valiantly for the freedom of her people. She suffered wounds both physical and spiritual in her quest. She became the icon of a nation and a paladin of undaunted faith in the face of overwhelming odds. Regardless of faith, she has been an inspiration to millions for 600 years, a muse to thousands of artists and a hope not just to the people of France, but for all free people everywhere.

Below is a chronological gallery of images of Joan of Arc. This is by no means a complete listing, but what I felt were outstanding examples. There are far too many to share them all, so explore! I think I will embark on my own painting of Joan of Arc soon.


Anonymous "Joan of Arc" ca:1450

Hermann Anton Stilke "Joan of Arc in Battle" 1843 

Ingres "Coronation of Charles VII" 1854

Rossetti "Joan of Arc" 1863

Millais "Joan of Arc" 1865

Bastien-Lepage "Joan of Arc" 1879

Matejko "Maid of Orleans" 1886

Fosdick "Adoration of St. Joan of Arc" 1896 Wood Burning on panel triptych.  Smithsonian

Boutet de Monvel from: "The Story of Joan of Arc" 1896

Mucha 1909

Huntington 1910

Coffin 1918

Schoonover 1918, from the William O'Connor Collection (I acquired this for my library in the late 90’s)

Joan of Arc Stained Glass Window, 1931, St. Margaret of Antioch RCC.  Pearl River, NY USA

Church of St. Joan of Arc. Rouen France 1979. Built to replace the original St. Vincent church destroyed during WWII,  it commemorates the site of St. Joan's execution.

Donato Giancola "Joan of Arc" 2013


  1. Great contribution! I'll be thinking about this for a while, and looking forward to the next.

  2. Thanks William. I enjoyed seeing the chronological images!

  3. Thank you, William, for posting on one of my subjects of special interest (I've created perhaps 14 portraits of Jehanne myself). I'd add two artists to your list: Frank Craig's amazing battle scene "Joan of Arc, The Maid of Orleans at the Head of French Cavalry", and Eugene Thirion's compelling 1876 portrait, which remains my favourite.

    A quick historical note: Jehanne was captured by the Burgundians, who the English then paid in order to be able to take her into their custody. She was literally sold out by a faction of her countrymen. The Armagnacs to their credit made at least three rescue attempts before her execution, all of which failed (she also made her own escape attempt, leaping more than 20 meters from a tower at Beaurevoir Castle!)

    Jehanne has sadly been appropriated as a political symbol by FN in France, but from everything I have read of her life, I would think she'd have some strong words for them.

    Her story is absolutely amazing. If anyone is interested in her, I would suggest reading Mark Twain's "Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc" (the "Translator's Preface" is shattering) and then read the transcript of her trial, which is available online. She was passionate, smart, often quite funny and a wholly remarkable and unforgettable person.

    1. Dave- I tried to keep the politics simple, but yes, it was a complicated situation. I was going to mention French National party as well, but didn't want to give the any air-time.

    2. I understand, William - I was kind of nervous about it myself. It's been a constant weirdness for me as someone who is very interested in her life, and attempts to portray her, but I felt it illustrates perfectly how people are still trying to leverage her politically for their own gain after all these centuries. Your tactic is likely the smarter move. :)

      Thanks again for the post, really!

  4. Thanks for this. I love Joan of Arc. I just wanted to mention that Joan of Arc wasn't condemned for heresy "by the Catholic Church." She was put on trial by the English backed court. The trial was a mockery of a trial, and was overturned by a higher court (which actually represented the Vatican, not England) about 20 years later in 1456. Her trial wasn't church oppression-- the Vatican had nothing to do with it, the Pope or curia were never involved-- and was instead a political trial of the English.

    1. My investigations led me to understand she was tried by English Bishop Cauchon for Heresy, and found guilty. It was a mock trial however and it was overturned as you say.
      There are some very good documentaries about St. Joan. As I said above it was a very complicated political scene as to jusistiction, continually shifting during the war. I tried to keep it simple.

  5. Awesome post! I just want to make a sujestion. There is a 19th century painter called Pedro Américo who was one of the most important academic painters of Brazil (my country by the way). And he have an amazing painting of Joan of Arc tha I think could be part of the works above.
    Here is a link of the painting in wikipedia :

    Sorry about my poor english.


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