Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc, 1879, Jules Bastien-Lepage, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Evolution of Joan of Arc Throughout Art History

Joan of Arc, one of France’s most notable and beloved historical figures, is equally adored in the art world. Since her execution in 1431, the world’s artists have been enamored with the teenager’s arrival at the Siege of Orléans, her divine visions, her trial, and subsequent execution, depicted in a myriad of styles and mediums.

Over time, the world’s perceptions of this iconic heroine have changed, as have depictions of her in art. Journey through the evolution of Joan of Arc throughout art history and discover the variety of ways the heroine has been portrayed, from her humble beginnings as a peasant girl to her transformation into a symbol of courage, resilience, and defiance.

Who was Joan of Arc?

Joan of Arc, or, as she is known in French, Jeanne d’Arc, was born a peasant in the village of Domrémy, France, circa 1412. At around age 13, Joan began hearing voices and experiencing divine visions from God and his angels, including Saint Michael, Saint Margaret, and Saint Catherine. These visions aligned with a French prophecy claiming that a young virgin would save France from its suffering in the ongoing Hundred Years’ War with England. Joan swore her virginity to the angels and, when she was 17, met with King Charles VII to urge him to send her to raise the siege of Orléans. After an examination by women of King Charles’ court to confirm her virginity, Joan began calling herself la Pucelle—the Maiden—to emphasize her devotion to God and the calling she felt she had to fulfill.

From the 15th century 15th-century miniature. Public Domain
From the 15th century 15th-century miniature. Public Domain

On April 29, 1429, Joan of Arc arrived at Orléans on horseback, wielding a banner and a sword. She also wore men’s plated armor. Initially meant only to serve to raise morale among soldiers, Joan’s insistence on remaining on the battlefield's front lines earned her credibility among military leaders, and occasionally, Joan’s battle advice was heeded. The success of Joan’s role in the siege of Orléans allowed her access to subsequent battles in which she both advised and fought.

The Burgundians—French allies of the British—finally captured Joan of Arc on May 23, 1430. She was put on trial for heresy on January 9, 1431. After four and a half months, Joan was found guilty of heresy on account of her blasphemous actions, which included wearing men’s clothes, acting on demonic visions, and refusing to submit her deeds and words to judgment from the church. Joan of Arc was executed by being burned at the stake in the city of Rouen on May 30, 1431, a moment which, in addition to her arrival at Orléans, is frequently depicted in art. She was approximately 19 years old at the time of her execution.

Contemporary views

Today, nearly six centuries after her death, Joan of Arc is notable for her status as a martyred young woman who dared to defy gender roles and norms by encompassing qualities associated with both genders. Her gender identity and expression are still discussed today, particularly concerning how she is often hyper-feminized in art.

Hailed as a religious figure even before her death, she was officially canonized as a saint in the Catholic Church in 1920. Her patronage as a saint includes France, women, prisoners, soldiers, and those ridiculed for their faith. 

J. William Fosdick, Adoration of St. Joan of Arc, 1896 via Smithsonian
J. William Fosdick, Adoration of St. Joan of Arc, 1896 via Smithsonian

Joan of Arc is perhaps most beloved within France as a defender of the country and as a figurehead for French identity and unity. Many statues and public works of art dedicated to Joan can be found throughout the country, and buildings that were important in Joan of Arc’s life, trial, imprisonment, and execution are still preserved. 

Joan’s legacy remains as impactful as ever, as the “character” of Joan of Arc within history has inspired songs, films, TV shows, musicals, plays, and more. She can be seen in animated form in TV shows like Clone High and is referenced by name in songs like “ Bigmouth Strikes Again ” by The Smiths. The 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc, which features a harrowing, emotional retelling of Joan of Arc’s life and death, was ranked the ninth-greatest film of all time in a 2014 “Sight and Sound” poll. 

There is no shortage of representations of Joan of Arc in art, though. Pieces depicting her likeness date back to 1429, completed while she was still alive.

Joan of Arc’s Art History Eras

As scholarly and popular views on Joan of Arc’s legacy evolve, artistic expressions of her life and death change in kind. Early images of Joan of Arc generally contained a historically accurate depiction of Joan’s likeness, trial, and execution based on Joan’s testimony at her trial. As her popularity as a revolutionary symbol slowly grew centuries after her death, particularly among the religious, artists interpreted Joan in their own ways. This continued throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, where artists today still find new and unique ways to depict the heroine. 

 Paul Delaroche Joan of Arc is interrogated by The Cardinal. Public Domain
 Paul Delaroche Joan of Arc is interrogated by The Cardinal. Public Domain

Early historic depictions (1430s - 1700s)

These works are simple drawings or illustrations often featured in illuminated manuscripts. A majority of these feature Joan arriving at Orléans—a moment that was undoubtedly impactful in the century immediately following her execution.

First sketch of Joan of Arc (1429) by Clément de Fauquembergue

This work by Clément de Fauquembergue is the first and only sketch of Joan of Arc created during her lifetime. It was drawn in the margins of the register of the Parliament of Paris on May 10th, 1429, the same day news arrived in Paris of France’s victory at Orléans. Fauquembergue never saw Joan in person, and his interpretation of her is likely based on descriptions of the event. In the sketch, Joan can be seen with long, flowing hair tied back in a braid. She raises her banner in one hand and clutches either a sword or a dagger in the other, with her eyebrows downturned in a determined expression.

First sketch of Joan of Arc, Clément de Fauquembergue, 1429, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
First sketch of Joan of Arc, Clément de Fauquembergue, 1429, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Works within Vigiles du roi Charles VII à neuf psaumes et neuf leçons (1493) by Martial d'Auvergne

Martial d’Auvergne, a French poet, created several works depicting Joan of Arc in his illuminated manuscript Vigiles du roi Charles VII à neuf psaumes et neuf leçons, a chronicle of the Hundred Years’ War told in verse. Created only 62 years after Joan’s execution, several panels feature key moments in Joan of Arc’s story, including the siege of Orléans, Joan’s meeting with King Charles VII, her capture, and her execution.

Joan of Arc and Charles VII, King of France (1493), Martial d_Auvergne,Bibliothèque nationale de France, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Joan of Arc and Charles VII, King of France (1493), Martial d'Auvergne,Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Joan of Arc on horseback (1505), Jean Pichore

This illustration from a 1504 manuscript, Les vies des femmes célèbres, features Joan of Arc riding her horse into the city of Orléans, carrying her banner over her shoulder. She wears a full suit of armor, with her hair obscured by an elaborate headpiece of armor adorned with feathers. Notably, Pichore depicts Joan of Arc with no sword or weaponry of any kind when it was documented that Joan was armed as she rode into Orléans.

Joan of Arc on horseback, Jean Pichore, 1505, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Joan of Arc on horseback, Jean Pichore, 1505, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Joan of Arc (c. 1620) by Peter Paul Rubens

One of the first overtly feminized, quiet depictions of Joan of Arc features the teenager kneeling at prayer in front of a crucified Jesus statue. In Rubens’ depiction, Joan wears black, traditional Medieval knight’s armor. Her helmet is set neatly aside while her gauntlets are discarded in front of her as she raises her hands in prayer. The viewer is drawn to Joan’s long red hair, which cascades down her back, and the red of the curtains and carpet in the background. 

Joan of Arc, 1620, Workshop of Peter Paul Rubens, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Joan of Arc, 1620, Workshop of Peter Paul Rubens, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Red is a color commonly associated with Joan of Arc, as an eyewitness account from a soldier who escorted her to Chinon to meet with King Charles VII claims that she wore “a poor outfit, a woman’s red dress,” before she changed into her male-styled armor and clothes. Red may also serve to emphasize her status as a heretic, marking Joan as a sinner who passionately partook in blasphemous acts.

Rise within pop culture and religion (1800s)

During this period, works depicting Joan of Arc increased immensely as her story spread among pious Christians. In the wake of the Siege of Orléans, Joan was already viewed as a religious figure, with her victory there signaling to some that her claims of her angelic visions were true and that she was being guided by God to save France. In 1869, the Bishop of Orléans, Félix Dupanloup, petitioned the Roman Catholic Church to begin the beatification process, allowing Joan of Arc to enter Heaven.

Joan of Arc's Death at the Stake (1843) by Hermann Stilke

This work depicting Joan of Arc’s final moments is the right-hand section of a triptych by German artist Hermann Stilke depicting Joan of Arc’s life. In this rendering, Joan looks towards the heavens in a mix of exasperation and fear, accepting her regrettable fate as she stands barefoot and chained to a wooden stake. Smoke rises from the pyre, which appears to have just been lit, and blows into the foreground. It parallels the dark storm clouds in the background, with only a small patch of blue sky visible to illuminate Joan. Joan wears ordinary peasant clothes, with a crucifix tucked within the ropes that bind her hands. At her execution, Joan requested to view the cross, and a priest held it in front of her face as she burned.

Joan of Arc_s Death at the Stake, 1843, Hermann Stilke, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Joan of Arc's Death at the Stake, 1843, Hermann Stilke, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII (1854) by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

As the title suggests, this work by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres depicts Joan of Arc at the coronation of King Charles VII, which took place at Reims Cathedral on July 17, 1429. Here, Joan is clad in full armor, except for the fabric skirts underneath her chest piece. Her helmet and gauntlets sit beside her as she rests one hand on the altar and proudly holds her banner in the other. Ingres chooses to render Joan with long, blonde hair tied back into a ponytail. A halo rests atop her head, alluding to the high religious praise she had already garnered at this point in history.

Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII, 1854, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII, 1854, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Joan of Arc (1865) by John Everett Millais

Bearing striking similarities to Peter Paul Rubens’ 1620 work, this painting by John Everett Millais also features Joan of Arc on her knees at prayer. Instead of viewing Joan from the side, like in Rubens’ work, Millais’ piece shows her from the front. Joan’s eyes don’t meet the viewer’s—instead, she wistfully gazes upwards in a moment of vulnerability, perhaps pleading with God or the angels whose voices she obeyed for guidance on what to do next. Clutching her sword with both hands, Joan’s helmet rests by her side. Her femininity is accentuated by the red dress she wears underneath her armor. Millais delivers one of the most emotional depictions of Joan of Arc in 1800s-era art by including no distractions in the background, forcing the viewer to take in what Joan is feeling.

Joan of Arc, 1865, John Everett Millais, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Joan of Arc, 1865, John Everett Millais, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Joan of Arc equestrian sculpture (1874) by Emmanuel Frémiet

One of the most prominent statue designs of Joan of Arc was commissioned by the French government in 1874. Standing 13 feet tall, Frémiet’s gilded bronze statue features Joan of Arc on horseback, triumphantly raising her banner above her head. A sword is sheathed at her side. For Joan’s likeness, Frémiet selected a woman named Aimée Girod as his model. Girod hailed from Domrémy, Joan of Arc’s home village. Although the original statue is located in the Place des Pyramides in Paris, several copies of Frémiet’s work exist around the world. In the United States, there are three copies: one in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, another in Portland, Oregon, and the third in New Orleans, Louisiana. 

Joan of Arc equestrian statue in Paris, Emmanuel Fremiet, 1874, Jastrow, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Joan of Arc equestrian statue in Paris, Emmanuel Fremiet, 1874, Jastrow, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The most recent copy, made in 1972, resides in the French Quarter in New Orleans. New Orleans, which takes its name from Orléans, France, holds deep cultural and historical ties to the country of France due to its colonization of the area from the late 1600s to the mid-1700s. The New Orleans copy of Frémiet’s statue was a gift to the city from the people of France to commemorate New Orleans’ connection to both the city where Joan originally made her mark on history and the country of France as a whole. As of March 2024, the base of the statue had been graffitied with one word that summarizes what Joan of Arc means to the resilient people of New Orleans: “beloved.”

Joan of Arc equestrian statue, 1972, Emmanuel Frémiet. Photo by Louise Irpino for ArtRKL, 2024
Joan of Arc equestrian statue, 1972, Emmanuel Frémiet. Photo by Louise Irpino for ArtRKL, 2024
Joan of Arc listening to the voices (1876) by Eugène Thirion

This work, bearing many compositional qualities of Renaissance art, doesn’t illustrate Joan’s arrival at Orléans or her death by burning, but instead showcases another integral moment in Joan of Arc’s life: one of the first times she experienced a vision from Saint Michael. Joan’s own accounts state she was about 12 or 13 years old when she began hearing voices from those she identified as angels. In this rendering, Saint Michael descends upon Joan, who wears typical peasant clothes and holds a broom, signifying the relatively normal life she had before the siege of Orléans—note the inclusion of the color red on her dress. Michael delivers a message in her ear, and Joan appears fearful yet convinced of his words, and a halo appears around her head. Michael also carries a sword, symbolizing Joan’s calling to save France.

Joan of Arc listening to the voices, 1876, Eugène Romain Thirion, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Joan of Arc listening to the voices, 1876, Eugène Romain Thirion, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Joan of Arc (1879) by Jules Bastien-Lepage

This life-sized 1879 painting by Jules Bastien-Lepage, which is nearly eight and a half feet tall, similarly depicts Joan of Arc experiencing her first vision from the saints, but this time, all three of the saints Joan claimed to hear and see—Michael, Margaret, and Catherine—are present. Their bodies float behind Joan in the background, blending into the exterior of Joan’s family home. Joan herself stands out among the lush greenery of the family garden as she leans against a tree for support, likely reeling from the sudden calling of the angels. The expression on her face suggests she is in a trance-like state, intently listening to the important information they had telegraphed to her regarding her role in the Hundred Years’ War. The overturned stool to the left of Joan also suggests the suddenness of these initial visions, which likely interrupted her amid her regular household duties. Lepage’s technique brings depth and emotion to this enormous rendering of the moment that set Joan of Arc on the path to becoming the legendary figure we know her as today.

Joan of Arc, 1879, Jules Bastien-Lepage, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Joan of Arc, 1879, Jules Bastien-Lepage, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Joan of Arc enters Orléans (1887) by Jean-Jacques Scherrer

Other works featured in this article that portray Joan of Arc’s arrival at the siege of Orléans typically feature Joan by herself, with no view of the chaotic scene that was occurring in the small city after over six months of conflict. The people and soldiers of Orléans were desperate for a savior, and much to the French army’s relief, they were sent one in the form of a teenage peasant girl from Domrémy. Exhibiting a skillful handle of lighting and composition, Scherrer tangibly communicates the relief Joan’s arrival brought to the city in this detailed crowd scene. 

Joan of Arc enters Orléans, 1887, Jean-Jacques Scherrer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Joan of Arc enters Orléans, 1887, Jean-Jacques Scherrer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Immediately catching the viewer's eye is the stark white of Joan’s banner, which she holds high as it billows in the wind. Then, the light illuminates Joan’s face, looking stern and stoic. In Scherrer’s depiction, she is shown with the now-iconic haircut many have come to associate with Joan of Arc: a short bob with bangs that fall just above the eyebrows. Another notable focal point of the image is Joan’s horse, which is draped in a royal blue cloth decorated with the fleur-de-lis, a symbol synonymous with France and its coat of arms. In the background, the crowd rejoices as Joan leads French troops through the streets. One woman, clad in all white, stands out in the foreground. Standing to the immediate right of Joan’s horse and her herald, she clasps her hands together and gazes up at Joan with hopeful anticipation, surely relieved that an end to the suffering Orléans had come to fruition.

Modern works (1900s - present)

Works from this era, especially those made after Joan’s canonization as a saint in 1920, emphasize Joan of Arc’s global legacy and radical behaviors that align with feminist ideas on gender, self-expression, and independence while also juxtaposing her heroic accomplishments with her tragic, untimely end. These works are perhaps the most varied in their depictions of Joan, signifying the shift away from artists depicting Joan as a fixed, historical figure, instead showcasing how they envision the heroine in a more abstract and nuanced manner.

Joan of Arc (c. 1900) by William Blake Richmond

At the turn of the century, a clear picture of Joan of Arc’s mission had emerged: her on horseback, with banner in hand. Jean Pichore’s 1505 illustration was one of the first to depict Joan in this fashion; comparing it to Richmond’s iteration, however, it becomes clear that Joan of Arc’s deeds became more folklorish and mythological over time. Richmond strays away from depicting Joan as an ordinary peasant and instead leans heavily into the knightly, Medieval aspects of her story. With both Joan and her black horse fitted in full suits of armor—a deliberate creative liberty taken by Richmond, as most early works of Joan of Arc on horseback show her riding a white horse with no armored protection—this rendition of Joan of Arc feels like it belongs in a storybook of Medieval legends. The dark, dramatic lighting of this piece also adds to the mythic-like feel of this characterization of Joan.

Joan of Arc, c. 1900, William Blake Richmond, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Joan of Arc, c. 1900, William Blake Richmond, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Joan of Arc (1903) by Albert Lynch

A strikingly modern take on Joan of Arc’s appearance, Albert Lynch’s 1903 portrait of her is one of the most well-known today. When asked to picture Joan of Arc, many might think of this image, originally produced for a magazine called Figaro Illustre. Joan looks directly at the viewer, holding her white banner in her right hand and pointing her sword toward the ground. Her dark hair is again cropped in a short bob with even shorter fringe—a style synonymous with her image. In France, this bob is often referred to as coupe à la Jeanne d'Arc—Joan of Arc’s haircut. Historically, Joan of Arc’s hair was described as short and black but was not as neatly styled when shown in a bob in artistic interpretations. In reality, her hair was much shorter, falling just above her ears, similar to a true men’s bowl cut.

Joan of Arc, 1903, Albert Lynch, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Joan of Arc, 1903, Albert Lynch, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Lynch’s portrait of Joan sets her within a field of white lilies. White lilies are not only a symbol of France in the fleur-de-lis but also represent purity and hope—qualities Joan herself hoped to embody by referring to herself as “Joan the Maiden.”

Joan of Arc (2012) by Donato Giancola

In a more recent portrayal, artist Donato Giancola imagines Joan’s capture by the Burgundians at the siege of Compiègne in a historical realist style. Several Burgundian soldiers desperately grasp at Joan’s body and her banner, but the heroine looks on with one arm outstretched, seemingly already having accepted her fate. This painting relies on the movement of the scene to envelop the viewer in the tragic, violating nature of Joan’s capture. Lighting also serves to accentuate the emotional tone of the piece. Highlights are cast across Joan’s banner, parts of her face, and the cross she wears, which one soldier attempts to rip off. Giancola’s Joan of Arc embraces her feminine beauty in a way that no other work in this article has done, making it evident that Joan of Arc’s legacy champions the strength and power of women who defy the expectations imposed upon them.

Donato Giancola, Joan of Arc, 2012 via Reddit
Donato Giancola, Joan of Arc, 2012 via Reddit

A revolutionary legacy that lives on

Much of Joan of Arc’s appeal, relatability, and notoriety is her striking, iconic appearance, which is integral to her visual identity. Over time, artists’ interpretations of the hero have evolved to showcase different sides of Joan as someone more than just a historical figure. Sometimes, she is presented as a hardened, determined soldier hellbent on standing up for what she believes in, reveling in the power of the masculine. Other times, she is captured as a demure, feminine, and obedient follower of God who is overshadowed by the tragedy of her circumstances.

Just as Joan revolutionized what it meant to be a woman, artists have revolutionized how we view Joan of Arc as a symbol and legendary leader. This incredible teenage hero of the Middle Ages has captivated the world in both popular culture and history for good reason, and artists will no doubt continue to be endlessly inspired by her life, trial, death, and legacy.


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