Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Joan of Arc
  • Creator: Bastien-Lepage, Jules, painter
  • Description:

    Jules Bastien-Lepage’s Joan of Arc (1879), or Joan of Arc Listening to the Voices, depicts the eponymous figure receiving a vision. Joan of Arc (1412-1431) was a peasant girl from Lorraine who asserted that she heard the voices of saints Michael, Margaret, and Catherine urging her to don men’s clothing, help restore the French monarch and drive the English out of France by fighting in the Hundred Years War (1337-1453). Her campaign in Orléans was notably successful and credited with turning the tide of the war. But as a cross-dressing female prophet, Joan was treated with suspicion, particularly by the Church, and she was eventually condemned to be burned at the stake.

    Bastien-Lepage’s painting depicts her at the beginning of this narrative, receiving her vision from the saints in her parents’ garden in Domrémy, France. She is barefoot, wearing a traditional peasant dress, and holding the branch of a tree. To her left there is a spinning wheel and overturned chair, suggesting the dramatic and arresting nature of her vision. Three translucent apparitions float above the spinning wheel, representing Saints Michael (in armor), Margaret and Catherine. These were well-known saints during Joan of Arc’s lifetime. St. Michael was the patron saint of France, St. Margaret was the patron of peasants, and St. Catherine mystified her interrogators (as Joan of Arc would later do during her trials). A diagonal gray line connects them to her, signifying the vision the three are giving to her. However, she uncharacteristically does not face the saints speaking to her; instead, she stares out of the picture frame, her gaze haunting and mysterious.

    The composition of the painting evokes the biblical Annunciation scene, in which the Archangel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary that she would become the mother of Jesus. Like Mary, Joan of Arc is depicted receiving her divine vision in the middle of spinning. However, while most imagery of the Annunciation presents Gabriel and the Virgin together, in Bastien-Lepage’s painting Joan of Arc is the sole central figure, with the saints only faintly visible in the background. Bastien-Lepage has painted Joan of Arc as naturalistic, she— along with several of the tree branches around her— appear as if in sharp focus, while the rest of her surroundings are more abstracted, almost blurred.

    The painting was originally shown in the Salon, the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts [The Academy of Fine Arts] in Paris. In this yearly exhibition, prominent artists' work from the past year would be on display together, usually with works filling the entirety of the gallery’s walls. The exhibition was open to the public, and frequented by the middle and upper classes. After the painting was exhibited in the Salon, it was bought by American collector Erwin Davis, who then gave the work to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1889 (where it has remained since). Bastien-Lepage was one of these prominent artists, from the region of Lorraine. He was intrigued by hypnosis and contemporary early studies of psychology, which heavily influenced his depiction of Joan of Arc’s vision.

    In late nineteenth century France there were two important diverging art movements. The first and slightly older movement focused on realism and upheld the tradition of participating in the Salon; the second emphasized impressionism and a break from the Salon culture. Bastien-Lepage’s Joan of Arc straddles these two, incorporating both hyper-realistic details and an impressionistic landscape. The painting received mixed reviews from critics when it was exhibited in 1880. One writer, Frédéric de Syène, compared it with Renaissance works and declared it possessed a rigorous truth, while another, asserted that the saints appeared too precise and byzantine against the charming and unconventional landscape.

    There is only one known depiction of Joan of Arc created during her lifetime, by Clément de Fauquembergue in the margins of the register for the Parlement of Paris announcing her victory in Orléans. As Joan of Arc had not been to Paris yet, he could not have actually seen her when he created the image. Like many peasants of the period, she was reportedly rather short, muscular, and stocky, yet depictions of her have rarely maintained these details of her appearance. Furthermore, because she was burned at stake there are no relics. Her condemnation by the Church and her cross-dressing made her a complicated symbol, though her reputation was rehabilitated in the decades after her death. As a virgin and French military hero, she eventually came to represent a pure, united France. Since the fifteenth century, Joan of Arc has been most commonly depicted in armor. However, in the nineteenth century a new category of imagery developed, Joan listening to voices.

    A plethora of Joan of Arc imagery emerged in France after 1871. At this point, France had just lost the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), after which the formerly French regions of Alsace and Lorraine were annexed by the victorious German Empire. This defeat left France humiliated, and in need of re-establishing itself as a powerful and influential state in Europe. A manifestation of this effort to reassert French authority was this revitalization of imagery of Joan of Arc, who had been from recently annexed Lorraine. In the early years of the decade, artworks depicted Joan of Arc in armor, drawing upon her military role during the Hundred Years War. This imagery highlighted vengeful sentiments of the period, and solidified her position as a symbol of French strength and pride. However, by 1879, when Bastien-Lepage painted Joan of Arc, France had sufficiently redeemed itself as a European power. Around this time, artworks depicting Joan of Arc shifted from the theme of warfare to that of saintly voices, highlighting her role as an innocent and simple peasant girl. Bastien-Lepage’s Joan of Arc was one of the most important and successful works of the category, and inspired a variety of other works on the same theme through to the beginning of the 20th century.

    During the Middle Ages there were strict customs concerning dress, with men and women prohibited from wearing the clothing of the opposite gender; of course, there were some exceptions in necessary circumstances. There are, in fact, many accounts of crossdressing female saints that were well known during the medieval period. Since generally only men of the period served in the military and held power, Joan of Arc’s crossdressing in some ways allowed her to assume these masculine gender roles. Bastien-Lepage’s Joan of Arc suppresses the centrality of her crossdressing and military capabilities, in favor of emphasizing her position as a prophet and peasant.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Art History- Painting Hagiography in Art Joan of Arc, Saint Medievalism Nationalism Peasantry Spirituality Visions Women in Religion
  • Geographic Area: France
  • Century: 19
  • Date: 1879
  • Related Work: Jeanne d'Arc [Joan of Arc] by Emmanuel Frémiet, 1872-1874, La Place des Pyramides, Paris.
    Jeanne d’Arc [Joan of Arc], François Rude, 1848-1852, Musée du Louvre.
    Jeanne d'Arc à Domrémy [Joan of Arc at Domrémy] by Henri Chapu, 1870-1872, Musée d’Orsay.
    Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII, by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, 1854, Musée de Louvre.
    Jeanne d’Arc écoutant ses voix [Joan of Arc Listening to the Voices] by Léon-François Bénouville, 1859, Musée des Beaux-arts de Rouen.
    Joan of Arc, in the protocol of the parliament of Paris, drawing by Clément de Fauquembergue, 1429, French National Archives.
    Johan of Arc by unknown artist, ca 1485, French National Archives.
    The Vision and Inspiration (Joan of Arc series: I) by Louis Maurice Boutet de Monvel, c. 1907-1909, The National Gallery of Art
  • Current Location: New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 89.21.1
  • Original Location: France, Damvillers
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Paintings
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Canvas; Oil paints;
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 254/279.4/
  • Inscription: Signed, dated, and inscribed (lower right): J.BASTIEN-LEPAGE, DAMVILLERS Meuse, 1879
  • Related Resources:

    de Syène, Frédéric. "Salon de 1880."L’Artiste (May-June 1880). Available open access in Gallica: https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k2557352/f360.highres

    Foxwell, Elizabeth. "Saint, Soldier, Spirit, Savior: The Images of Joan of Arc." Minerva 12, 3 (Sep 30 1994): 36.

    Heimann, Nora M. "Joan of Arc: From Medieval Maiden to Modern Saint." Joan of Arc: Her Image in France and America. Edited by Nora M. Heimann and Laura Coyle. Corcoran Gallery of Art, 2006. Pages 15-51.

    Igra, Caroline. "Measuring the Temper of Her Time: Joan of Arc in the 1870s and 1880s." Konsthistorisk Tidskrift 68 (1999): 122–23.

    "Le Salon de Paris, 1880: Correspondance particulière de l’Indépendance, Paris, 30 avril, le vernissage." L’indépendance belge (May 2, 1880, page 2, col. 3). Available open access: https://uurl.kbr.be/1066663

    Oliphant, Elayne. "Voices and Apparitions in Jules Bastien-Lepage’s 'Joan of Arc'". Looking and Listening in Nineteenth-Century France. Edited by Martha Ward and Anne Leonard. Smart Museum of Art and the University of Chicago, 2007. Pages 42-49.

    Pappas, Sara. "Reading for Detail: On Zola's Abandonment of Impressionism." Word & Image 23, 4 (2007): 474-484.

    Rosenfeld, Jason. "The Salon and The Royal Academy in the Nineteenth Century." Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004. Available on the website: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/sara/hd_sara.htm

    Sexsmith, D. “The Radicalization of Joan of Arc before and after the French Revolution.” RACAR: Revue D'art Canadienne / Canadian Art Review 17, 2 (1990): 25-199.