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
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.
Author/Illustrator of the best selling Dracopedia book series, as well as illustrator of over 3000 illustrations for the gaming and publishing business, William O'Connor's 20 year career has allowed him to work with such companies as: Wizards of the Coast, Impact Books, Blizzard Entertainment, WhiteWolf/CCP, Lucas Films, Activision and many more.A winner of over 30 industry awards for artistic excellence including 6 contributions to Spectrum: The Best in Contemporary Fantasy Art and 8 Chesley nominations, William has taught and lectured around the country about his unique and varied artwork.