Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

The Life of Joan of Arc
By Anatole France


THERE is no authentic picture of Jeanne. From her we know that at Arras she saw in the hands of a Scotsman a picture in which she was represented on her knees presenting a letter to her King. From her we know also that she never caused to be made either image or painting of herself, and that she was not aware of the existence of any such image or painting. The portrait painted by the Scotsman, which was doubtless very small, is unfortunately lost and no copy of it is known.[1170] The slight pen-and-ink figure, drawn on a register of May 10, 1429, by a clerk of the Parlement of Paris, who had never seen the Maid, must be regarded as the mere scribbling of a scribe who was incapable of even designing a good initial letter.[1171] I shall not attempt to reconstruct the iconography of the Maid.[1172] The bronze equestrian statue in the Cluny Museum produces a grotesque effect that one is tempted to believe deliberate, if one may ascribe such an intention to an old sculptor. It dates from the reign of Charles VIII. It is a Saint George or a Saint Maurice, which, at a time doubtless quite recent, was taken to represent the Maid. Between the legs of the miserable jade, on which the figure is mounted, was engraved the inscription: La pucelle[Pg ii.421] dorlians, a description which would not have been employed in the fifteenth century.[1173] About 1875, the Cluny Museum exhibited another statuette, slightly larger, in painted wood, which was also believed to be fifteenth century, and to represent Jeanne d'Arc. It was relegated to the store-room, when it turned out to be a bad seventeenth-century Saint Maurice from a church at Montargis.[1174] Any saint in armour is frequently described as a Jeanne d'Arc. This is what happened to a small fifteenth-century head wearing a helmet, found buried in the ground at Orléans, broken off from a statue and still bearing traces of painting: a work in good style and with a charming expression.[1175] I have not patience to relate how many initial letters of antiphonaries and sixteenth-, seventeenth- and even eighteenth-century miniatures have been touched up or repainted and passed off as true and ancient representations of Jeanne. Many of them I have had the opportunity of seeing.[1176] On the other hand, if they were not so well known, it would give me pleasure to recall certain manuscripts of the fifteenth century, which, like Le Champion des Dames and Les Vigiles de Charles VII, contain miniatures in which the Maid is portrayed according to the fancy of the illuminator. Such pictures are interesting because they reveal her as she was imagined by those who lived during her lifetime or shortly afterwards. It is not their merit that appeals to us; they possess none; and in no way do they suggest Jean Foucquet.[1177]

[Pg ii.422]

While the Maid lived, and especially while she was in captivity, the French hung her picture in churches.[1178] In the Museum of Versailles there is a little painting on wood which is said to be one of those votive pictures. It represents the Virgin with the Child Jesus, having Saint Michael on her right and Jeanne d'Arc on her left.[1179] It is of Italian workmanship and very roughly executed. Jeanne's head, which has disappeared beneath the blows of some hard-pointed instrument, must have been execrably drawn, if we may judge from the others remaining on this panel. All four figures are represented with a scrolled and beaded nimbus, which would have certainly been condemned by the clerics of Paris and Rouen. And indeed others less strict might accuse the painter of idolatry when he exalted to the left hand of the Virgin, to be equal with the Prince of Heavenly Hosts, a mere creature of the Church Militant.

Standing, her head, neck, and shoulders covered with a kind of furred hood and tippet fringed with black, her gauntlets and shoes of mail, girt above her red tunic with a belt of gold, Jeanne may be recognised by her name inscribed over her head, and also by the white banner, embroidered with fleurs-de-lis, which she raises in her right hand, and by her silver shield, embossed in the German style; on the shield is a sword bearing on its point a crown. A three-lined inscription in French is on the steps of the throne, whereon sits the Virgin Mary. Although the inscription is three parts effaced and almost unintelligible, with the aid of my learned friend, M. Pierre de Nolhac, Director of the Museum of Versailles, I have succeeded in deciphering a few words. These would convey the idea that the inscription consisted of prayers and wishes for the salvation of Jeanne, who had fallen into the hands of the enemy. It would appear therefore that we have here one of those ex voto hung in the churches of France during the captivity of the Maid. In such a case the nimbus round[Pg ii.423] the head of a living person and the isolated position of Jeanne would be easily explained; it is possible that certain excellent Frenchmen, thinking no evil, adapted to their own use some picture which originally represented the Virgin between two personages of the Church Triumphant. By a few touches they transformed one of these personages into the Maid of God. In so small a panel they could find no place more suitable to her mortal state, none like those generally occupied at the feet of the Virgin and saints by the kneeling donors of pictures. This too might explain perhaps why Saint Michael, the Virgin and the Maid have their names inscribed above them. Over the head of the Maid we read ane darc. This form Darc may have been used in 1430.[1180] In the inscription on the steps of the throne I discern Jehane dArc, with a small d and a capital A for dArc, which is very curious. This causes me to doubt the genuineness of the inscription.

The bestion tapestry[1181] in the Orléans Museum,[1182] which represents Jeanne's arrival before the King at Chinon, is of German fifteenth-century workmanship. Coarse of tissue, barbarous in design, and monotonous in colour, it evinces a certain taste for sumptuous adornment but also an absolute disregard for literal truth.

Another German work was exhibited at Ratisbonne in 1429. It represented the Maid fighting in France. But this painting is lost.[1183]


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