Jeanne d'Arc, or Joan of Arc in English, was a 15th century French woman who fought in the Hundred Years’ War. She was later captured by a faction that was allied with the English, put on trial, and burned at the stake. Only a few years after her death was she canonized as a Roman Catholic saint. Centuries later the ripples of Joan’s martyrdom were still felt throughout Europe. In 19th century Europe she was greatly respected. This is especially true in France as she was held up as an ideal to emulate.
This reverence is clearly evident in the art of the period. European artists depicted Joan with some frequency and with great care. They seem to universally treat her as a person of almost supernatural ability and uprightness. From her ability as a warrior to her stoic burning at the stake, she was depicted with such reverence that you may think she was a type of god to them. Jules Bastien-Lepage coming out of this tradition does something a little different. He depicts her as a real girl. He retains some of her iconic “otherness” but he makes her much more relatable. She is placed in a modern day, 19th century setting. She’s not in armor, or burning at the stake, or in some romantic pose. She is simply outstretching her arm. Bastien-Lepage differs in his depiction of Joan of Arc in that he makes her a relatable person, in order that we may better see ourselves in her situation.
Joan of Arc, Jules Bastien-Lepage, 1879, oil on canvas, 89.21.1 (The Met)
Bastien-Lepage’s Joan is a real girl. Her face is a bit non naturalistic in its soft lighting, however, and her eyes have a somewhat supernatural twinkle, but she still feels real. The smooth brushwork, drab colors, and somewhat understated pose all emphasize this. Her surroundings give the painting a sense that she is placed in the real world. And the spirits, rather than being prominent, are translucent. The way that Bastien-Lepage frames the image and the brushwork he uses, all helps the viewer to relate to Joan.
The Vision of Joan of Arc, Eduard Jakob von Steinle, late 19th century, graphite, gray wash; framing line in graphite, 2013.220 (The Met)
This depiction of Joan of Arc by the Austrian artist Eduard Jakob is a great example of the reverence that is shown to Joan’s story by artists throughout the 19th century. The focus here is on Joan’s connection with the spiritual world. While simple in design, you can see the classical influence on Jakob in his portrayal of this event in Joan’s life. This visual language communicates the importance and respectability of Joan and her story.
Jeanne d'Arc au sacre du roi Charles VII, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, 1855, oil on canvas, Louvre (The Louvre)
Here we see Joan of Arc as the great, holy warrior. Joan has donned her armor and is being prayed over by a monk and others in attendance. Interestingly, Ingres has placed a halo on her head as she looks to the heavens, signifying her holiness. The brushwork that Ingres uses makes her look better than real life. She is pure. Her face is clean. Her armor is shiny. This all feels a bit unrealistic to me. She’s too perfect. I think that is Ingres’s point, however. Joan is better than we are and to be admired.
Joan of Arc, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1864, watercolor on board, Tate (Tate)
This piece is another depiction of Joan as warrior. However, rather than focusing on the full body presence that Ingres emphasizes, Dante Rossetti emphasizes her internal, intellectual power. Her masculine features emphasize her strength as a warrior, while her eyes turned upward show her focus is still on the spiritual world. Out of all the pieces in this exhibit, I think this comes the closest to capturing Joan as a person you can relate to as Bastien-Lepage does. But the masculine features and grip on the sword make her feel as if she was somehow bred for combat rather than capturing the humanity of the girl.
Joan of Arc Imprisoned in Rouen, Pierre Henri Revoil, 1819, pen and brown ink, watercolor, and wash on two sheets of laid paper, mounted together on a sheet of laid paper, 2003.152 (The Met)
Moving away from depictions of Joan as warrior, this Pierre Revoil’s painting focuses on the later stage in her life when she was imprisoned. Revoil’s emphasis, however, is not on Joan but on the setting. He places his figures in medieval clothes and architecture. This creates a disconnect for the viewer if his goal was to help us relate to Joan. The poses that his figures are in likewise create a disconnect as they are overly-elegant and “staged.” Revoil did not intend for us to relate to Joan, but rather wanted us to see the scene as a whole and to transport us back in time.
Scenes from the life of Joan of Arc, Charles Abraham Chasselat, 1817, cotton, 13.133.3 (The Met)
Moving away from a single specific moment in Joan’s life, Charles Chasselat created a piece that was an overview of her life. We find here the crucial moments: heading to battle, on trial, burning at the stake, and a few others. I think of this piece like a Sunday school lesson. We are shown Joan’s life, all the stuff she did and all the stuff she had to go through, and we are to learn from it. The emphasis is not on her a person, but her as an object lesson.