Joan of Arc (1879) by Jules Bastien-Lepage

Why did Jules Bastien-Lepage paint Joan of Arc in 1879?

  • 400 years later – Joan of Arc became a hero
  • The 100 years war parallels the Franco-Prussian war
  • A saint in the backyard … surrounded by angel messengers

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Joan of Arc caught Jules Bastien-LePage’s attention long after she died a hero. France had just given up a region of their territory to Germany in the Franco-Prussian war. Ms. Arc and Bastien-Lepage were both from Lorraine. After the war Bastien-Lepage experienced, he looked to his local underdog historical hero – Joan – for inspiration.

Saint Joan lives on in the modern vernacular as a spiritual warrior. She’s one of the few historical figures that’s a literal and symbolic saint. Her sainthood came rather late, well after this painting from 1879. She died a “heretic” in 1431 and became a saint in 1920. We see a glimpse of these two sides to Joan – the rebel and the martyr – in Bastien-Lepage’s masterpiece. Although she wasn’t yet a saint in this depiction, there are saints present. They float in the trees behind her. She may not seem aware of their presence in this portrayal. But we know she hears them and can see from her face, she’s listening with care.

These transparent angelic messengers also work as shadows of Joan’s future. One day, long after this depicted scene, she too will be a ghostly saint. But at the moment this painting portrays she’s a teenager who hears voices. We see that in her wondrous eyes. Joan thus reported that the saints Michael, Margaret, and Catherine spoke to her. So, this portrayal captures the mysterious event that Joan experienced on her own. Isolation pulses through the painting. We see it in the lost look of her eyes and the lonely leaf clutched in her held-out hand.

The overwhelming overgrowth of nature sets Joan of Arc on Earth. This world seems lush. Yet it’s clear her mind and spirit exist elsewhere. She clutches a leaf from the surrounding vegetation; trying to ground her physical experience. Viewers get the sense from her face that without this leaf connecting her to the Earth, Joan might float up to join her saint compatriots. They hover behind her, colorless and clear. While Joan clearly has a body, she does also appear rather bloodless and absent with her porcelain face and distant eyes.


Joan of Arc by Jules Bastien-LePage

Why was Joan of Arc a hero?

Joan of Arc was the very first Karen. After hearing about her “mission” from the saints in her backyard, Joan declared that she must have a word with the future King Charles VII. The saints gave her the mission and like any decent Karen, Joan achieved her goal. Led by her passionate beliefs, 17 year old Joan not only met with Charles, she convinced him to enlist her in his army. Thanks to her dominant role in the siege of Orléans, Joan helped lead the French army to victory over the English. Ms. Arc’s soldiering eventually led to a coronation for Charles with Joan by his side. After that she went on to continue fighting and winning for his sake.

The irony never seems to end in Joan’s story, though. For instance, just after she was declared a noble by King Charles and thus legitimized, Joan went to trial for heresy. She epitomized Catholicism with her deep connection to the saints. No matter that they were long dead, these were her closest companions.

Although French, the Catholic Bishop of Beauvais cared more for England’s interests than Joan’s piety. He put politics first and ran the trial that ended with Joan burning at the stake. She was nineteen years old. The poignant combination of her age and profound faith sealed Joan of Arc into the canon of Catholic saints. Although she was also a war hero, that’s not why we know her name today.  

It’s also not why Jules Bastien-Lepage painted her with such reverence. More than a powerful warrior, Joan of Arc was a true believer. We see her as a great warrior because she fought with her heart – not because of technical skill. That’s what Bastien-Lepage captures in her eyes. Joan’s look reminds me of a common phrase, “That’s so crazy, it just might work.” If she existed today, there’s little question Joan of Arc would be asking to speak to a manager and getting her fries for free.


Joan of Arc – FAQs

What kind of painting is Joan of Arc by Jules Bastien-Lepage?

Joan of Arc by Jules Bastien-Lepage fits into both landscape and portrait painting categories. It’s also a historical, supernatural, and religious painting. These cover the subject matter within the artwork. Based on technique, Joan of Arc works as a masterpiece of realism. There’s a bit of irony to this, given that the painting includes depictions of several angel messengers.

Where can I see Joan of Arc by Jules Bastien-Lepage?

The Bastien-Lepage masterpiece Joan of Arc graces New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in Gallery 800. At about 8X9 feet, it sets a spectacular scene for viewers who often find themselves mesmerized by the stunning portrayal. Joan of Arc’s eyes seem to pull us into her wonder. Many visitors even miss the angel messengers who float behind Joan among the trees. It’s easy to get caught in the awe of the human figure despite the supernatural elements at her back.


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See Joan of Arc at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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