The Hundred Years War was waning and France was losing. Half of the country was scorched and parched and impoverished, thanks to Henry V and his invading English army. The other half was on the side of the English. Then along came Joan of Arc …
The entire story of Joan of Arc (French: Jeanne d’Arc) is laid out in eight paintings on the Pantheon wall dedicated to her. There are four major panels, each 15 feet two inches high. And above each of these are four friezes that continue the story. The Joan Wall is inside the north transept facing west (to the left of the National Convention sculpture) and so the story runs from right to left with the three right friezes also running right to left in a procession in sync with the paintings below. Jules Eugene Lenepveu was the artist assigned to the wall and he created his paintings between 1886 and 1890.
The Pantheon paintings are often called murals or frescoes but these terms are not really correct. They are oil paintings on canvas that are glued to the wall by means of a process called marouflage. In 19th century France white lead ground in oil was used as an adhesive for this process.
Lenepveu begins his story with a scene depicting Joan, a 16-year-old shepherdess from the village of Domrémy in what is now Lorraine, who is called by voices to go to war and save France. They are the voices of St Michael the Archangel along with Saints Margaret and Catherine. The frieze procession then begins with Joan accepting a sword and a horse and joining a group of soldiers. It is an opportune time for France to take an offensive as King Henry V had died and was replaced by his son Henry VI who was still a young boy.
Joan convinces the Dauphin that with her help he can become King of France and he sends her to the besieged city of Orleans. Lenepveu’s second scene shows Joan leading her troops to victory at Orleans and the frieze continues with a victory parade as Joan wins battle after battle for about a year.
The city of Reims capitulates to Joan and she sees that her Dauphin is crowned King Charles VII. Lenepveu chose the coronation as the subject of his third scene in Joan’s Story. The campaign falters after the coronation, however, and strategic decisions are made behind Joan’s back. The accompanying frieze shows Joan being captured by Burgundian soldiers who are allies of England. No one comes to her rescue. No one comes up with a ransom. Joan is turned over to the English and is imprisoned for five months in Rouen, a city in sympathy with the English who believe that Joan is a witch. Joan is put on trial for heresy. The case is stacked against her as all the inquisitors including the bishop are English sympathizers.
Lenepveu’s final panel shows Joan asking for a cross just before being put to death by burning at the stake. Her executioners make sure that there is nothing left but ashes and they are scattered with the wind. Joan was 19 years old.
The final frieze seems to be out of sequence. It shows Joan in company with a group of friendly soldiers. Joan is dressed in armor complete with sword in scabbard. One of the soldiers is addressing her with arms outstretched. Just beyond his arms is a dove that I suppose represents the Holy Ghost. I do not know the significance of this panel. Perhaps some scholar will enlighten us.
22 years after her death The Hundred Years War was over and France had regained all of the land previously lost to England. Three years later Joan was found innocent by an inquisitorial court who declared her a martyr. Her story through the ages has become popular with artists and playwrights. In 1909 she was beatified by Pope Pius X and in 1920 she was canonized by Pope Benedict XV. King Louis IX was declared a saint 27 years after his death. Joan had to wait nearly 500 years.
Charles De Gaulle’s tricolor flag of 1941 has Joan’s Cross of Lorraine in its center. Joan’s village of Domrémy has been renamed Domrémy-la-Pucelle after her nickname, la Pucelle d’Orléans (“the Maid of Orléans”).
This posting is dedicated to my sister Joan who was born 69 years ago today. Happy Birthday, Joan!