Joan of arc

The austere column-like form of the statue was inspired by the artist’s belief in the primacy of the strength of spirit, which can endure in a fettered body. The familiar heroicized archetype of woman warrior gives way to the image of a martyr, such as Joan of Arc, one who believed that she had been chosen by God to save France. The assertive vertical of the figure with her hands pressed against her sides, dramatized by the austere line of the pillar to which she is tied, has the symbolic connotations of the axis of the world, which is interpreted here as the spiritual mainstay of life. The meaning of the statue is explained through the cross, made of two plain twigs placed crosswise, which Joan firmly holds in her shackled hands. Loath to abjure, keen to hold on, she fights her cause and seeks support – already not from the crowds but from the Almighty, to whom her face is turned. The face is the only element angled from the composition’s pivotal rigid vertical, its purity and clear well-wrought form distinguishing it from the intensely emotional modelling of the whole: this face seems to be struggling against the convulsions of a perishing flesh and exhibiting the light and the strength of the spirit. The spare undercolour, resembling the faded colours of a medieval statue, makes for a more emotional and impressive reference to the troubled times of the past than specific material objects such as logs and brushwood.


Brief annotations to the image

JOAN OF ARC (circa 1412–1431) was a saint, one of the French army’s military leaders in the Hundred Years’ War, the national heroine of France called the Maid of Orleans. Since the age of 13, she had divine visions convincing her that her vocation was to save the king and France. Captured by the Burgundians, she was transferred to the English, convicted by an ecclesiastical court in Rouen on charges of heresy and witchcraft, and burned at the stake. Later she was declared innocent and canonized by the Catholic Church.